Fluffy, tasty, whets the appetite but doesn't satisfy ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fluffy, tasty, whets the appetite but doesn't satisfy

My rating:

I don't understand the local film industry. First, a horror flick and a fantasy-comedy (both equally shite) get the coveted Raya cinema release date, instead of a heartwarming family drama like Afdlin Shauki's Papadom. Then Afdlin Shauki's Papadom sweeps this year's Malaysian Film Festival, winning Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Original Story and Best Original Music Score - all this before the movie was even released. Not that the FFM22 panel of judges' decision should be swayed by public opinion, but if we'd seen for ourselves what the fuss was all about beforehand, the awards would at least be relevant.

I sure wish they were deserved though.

Saadom (Afdlin Shauki) has been neglecting his family in the 10 years he spent expanding his nasi kandar stall into big business. But when his wife Mun (Noorkhiriah) is killed in an accident, he turns into an overprotective father to his teenage daughter Miasara (Liyana Jasmay). When Miasara leaves for university in KL, Saadom gets a job as a gardener on campus grounds to keep an eye on her, and gets caught up in her college life - with best friend Yvonne (Chelsia Ng), queen bitch Shasha (Scha), glamour king Hisham (Farid Kamil), nerdy love interest Mat "Wajib Tayang" (Que Haidar), and film studies professor Balqish (Vanida Imran).

I wanted to like this movie, I really did. I loved Afdlin in Setem, but I missed all the other movies he wrote and directed; this is the first of his that I've watched. And there's a lot to like in here. A lot of the jokes are funny, and that's still something that's new to me. (As is the fact that the Malay language can actually be clever and witty. Can you blame me?) And the pathos is pretty effective, even at the end when it descends into contrived melodrama. It's clearly a story that's close to its writer/director's heart, and his sincerity is evident from start till finish.

But the fact is that it's a movie that could've been much, much better. The first half hour is effective - the first 10 minutes actually reminds me of Up's opening sequence, and that's high praise - but when the action shifts to Miasara's university, the movie turns into bad teen comedy. We get stereotypical Libby and Big Man on Campus characters in Shasha and Hisham, and they drive the plot in predictable and tiresome ways. Not only that, Scha is terrible - her performance is nails-on-blackboard annoying. Farid Kamil fares slightly better in that he's at least intentionally over-the-top - but the script would rather use him for a cheap laugh than bring his character's subplot to a logical end.

And that's the biggest problem with this film: too many characters, too many relationships, too many subplots. Mun appears as a ghost/figment of imagination/conscience to Saadom, and accompanies him as he spies on Miasara whilst also having a budding romance with Prof. Balqish. Saadom seems to think Mat would make a better boyfriend for his daughter, so he helps the kid with his crush on her. Miasara also goes through a Corrupt the Cutie when she starts dating Hisham, complete with abandoned best friend Yvonne. Also, Pete Teo and Adham Malekh are thrown in as Saadom's business partners. Afdlin is not a skilled enough writer to juggle all these storylines and resolve them satisfactorily; or even to justify some of the characters' presences. I suspect some of them are there just because the actors are his buddies.

So when the ending rolls, so many plot threads are left dangling. Nothing happens between Miasara and Mat. Or Miasara and Hisham. Or Saadom and Balqish. Even Yvonne is conspicuously missing from the denouement. Only the father-daughter relationship is conclusively dealt with, and yes, the ending is contrived and melodramatic and made of a fair bit of facepalm. Aiyoo, Afdlin, no need lar the beatific crowd bearing witness to dad and daughter's tearful declarations of love for each other, complete with Slow Clap. Cliche gila babi! All you need to effectively tug the heartstrings is you and Liyana acting off each other. That's the best thing you got going for you here.

Clearly, Afdlin's and Liyana's performances are the best in the movie - Liyana pulls off the tricky job of keeping Miasara likable even when she's fawning over a strutting peacock like Hisham. Vanidah Imran is wooden, and even (unintentionally, I hope) comes across as a little miang. Noorkhiriah is a lot of fun; I'm actually glad Mun does the Spirit Advisor thing so we could see more of her. Que Haidar is turning out to be a pretty damn versatile actor; I wish he had more to do in this film. Harun Salim Bachik has a cameo as Saadom's boss at the gardening job, and he's probably the funniest thing in the movie. He has a freaking hilarious line about "beremosi dengan tanah" that sounds like an ad-lib; and if it was, dude, you da man.

It looks like Papadom is raking in the box-office bucks; it was sold out the first time I tried to catch it, the second time I only got in with an uncollected reservation, and it was also a full house. If this means Afdlin gets to make more movies, I'm all for it; he has it in him to make a really good one, and I'm looking forward to watching it. But FFM22 got it wrong - the best local movie of the year is still Setem. Just like a typical film award show jury, to overlook something that's purely entertaining in favour of a movie with a "message". Even if it's not as good.

Anticipation level: just hope it's not another Drag Me to Hell