TL;DR – A beautiful, funny film of charting family expectations
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit sequence as the credits roll
‘Families are complicated’, I think that is a phrase that just about anyone in the world can relate to. There is pressure to conform to your parents wants, and there is pressure to try and help the next generation succeed more than you did, and sometimes those two drives crash into each other in explosive fashion. Today we will be looking at a film that deals with just this very issue, as we explore this fascinating film from New Zealand from the same creative team behind Three Wise Cousins (see review). There will be laughter, there will be tears, and there will be bread rolls on people’s heads for some reason.
So to set the scene, growing up there were two girls, Hibiscus (Suivai Autagavaia) and Ruth (Anna-Maree Thomas). Ruth had issues with anger and was often sent to time out where Hibiscus or ‘biscuits’ would give her some of her food. Soon a grand friendship was born that would stretch all the way into university. It is the last year of their university and together they have to work together on a project for their engineering degree. Hibiscus’ mother Salamasina (Lafitaga Mafaufau) is very strict implementing a “No Going Out and No Boyfriends” until she finishes university rule. Which Hibiscus is happy to do as she has seen her cousin drop out due to a hastily arranged wedding, which of course Hibiscus arranged and help pay for. She has tasked Ruth to help her not slip up, and they are on track to complete the year with honours. However, life being the crafty one that it is, picks that very moment to drop three potential love interests right into her lap, Stephen (Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson) at her University, Charlie (Daya Tumua-Sao-Mafiti) a friend of her cousin’s new husband and excellent dancer, and finally Anthony (Thierry Martel) a waiter at the restraint she works at and also an excellent dancer.
The first thing I want to talk about is just how funny Hibiscus & Ruthless is because this film will leave you in stitches. Part of it comes from the classic fish out of water techniques which are almost guaranteed to get a laugh when they are crafted as well as this. Add to this the almost absurdist interaction with Ruth that is peppered throughout the film which walks that fine line between being very silly but yet not completely ridiculous. You also have Hibiscus’ Grandma (Yvonne Maea-Brown) who delivers some of the best lines in the entire film. I don’t think I have laughed this much since maybe Thor: Ragnarok (see review) and the whole audience was laughing along with me making it a truly joyful experience. As well as this, if you are a fan of the male form, then there are a number of scenes here that will, well how do I put it … peak your interest … ok just look there are a lot of hot bods out and the lady in front me audibly said ‘oh my’ when a particular shirt got ripped off. That being said I think there was universal agreement in the cinema that one of those guys was a complete ass, and rightly so.
While it has its comedic elements, it is also a film dealing with a very real problem, the disconnect that can form between parents and their children and how that can happen from both sides. Now, this film is exploring this through a very particular cultural lens, in this case, Polynesian, or more specifically Samoan tradition. Now if you have some knowledge about traditional Polynesian customs then you will probably be able to pick up on the undercurrent of the film quite quickly, but even if you don’t Hibiscus and Ruthless does a really good job of walking you through the issues at play.
Much like last week’s Lady Bird (see review), at the heart of Hibiscus and Ruthless is the relationship between Hibiscus and her mother, and also Ruth who is almost an agent of chaos in the film at times. Now what makes these relationships work as the core driver of the film is the commitment the actors are giving to their roles, which are wonderfully written by S.Q.S. This is important, because when the film does a pivot to the more serious material the actors are able to make that transition for the characters. The film does go to some dark places for the characters at times, and without that commitment, there would be a bit of tonal whiplash. This is also aided by some interesting filmmaking choices with how the camera moves, and also how some of the sequences were presented with inserts and overlays that makes the film visually engaging to watch.
In the end, do we recommend Hibiscus and Ruthless? Yes, we do. It is funny, it is emotional, and it is looking at important issues, while also having time for a dance number or two. It is telling an important story in a cultural setting we don’t see often at the cinemas and I think it would be better if we got more of these varied and diverse stories on our screens. So make sure you can catch it while it is still at the movies and I think you’ll have a good time.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Hibiscus & Ruthless
Directed by – S.Q.S (Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa)
Written by – S.Q.S (Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa)
Music by – Andrew Faleatua
Cinematography by – Riki Reinfeld
Edited by – Jack Woon
Starring – Suivai Autagavaia, Anna-Maree Thomas, Lafitaga Mafaufau, Yvonne Maea-Brown, Thierry Martel, Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson, Peachez Vetenibua, Rosie Moore & Lydia Peckham
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: na; Germany: na; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: na; United States: na