Hibiscus & Ruthless opens in New Zealand cinemas on January 25.
Hibiscus & Ruthless (PG, 97mins) Directed by SQS ★★★★½
From a very young age, Hibiscus (Suivai Pilisipi Autagavaia) has known the rules.
"No going out and no boyfriends," her domineering mother has drilled into her as she encouraged her daughter to focus on studies first.
Encouraged to save her money and assist the wider family, the only chaos tolerated in Hibiscus' life is schoolmate Ruth (Anna-Maree Thomas). Free-spirited, rambunctious and always hungry, Ruth attached herself to her more serious, organised and free food-providing friend "Biscuits" early on and hasn't let go.
Now the pair are in the final year of their engineering degrees at Auckland University, with a make-or-break group project all that stands between them and graduation.
However, just when Hibiscus needs to focus the most that's when the suitors start lining up in all areas of her life. Desperate not to disappoint her ma, she enlists the help of Ruth to run interference. But even her surveillance and blunt charms can't ward them off forever.
Hibiscus & Ruthless provides a showcase for two new budding Kiwi acting stars - Anna-Maree Thomas and Suivai Pilisipi Autagavaia,
* Follow-up to hit Kiwi movie Three Wise Cousins set to debut
* New Zealand movie Three Wise Cousins continues to impress at box office
* Three Wise Cousins bring their cheeky charm to cinemas
* Review: Three Wise Cousins
Writer-director Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa (working here under the moniker SQS) has followed up his 2016 sleeper-hit Kiwi-Samoan comedy Three Wise Cousins with an even bigger and better crowdpleaser. This sophomore feature is a more polished affair, which retains Cousins' charm, but throws in some bolder narrative choices and a surprising amount of pathos. It also offers plenty of laughs too, from disastrous dates to memorable wedding dances and some mean-as dialogue ("I'm going to ACC his face," Ruth rages against one of Hibiscus' wooers). Vaiaoga-Ioasa especially deserves credit for his casting. He's uncovered two gems in Autagavaia and Thomas and provided them with a perfect showcase and calling card.
With the the cinematic world lamenting the lack of female-led dramas and comedies, how great is it to see a homegrown one on the big screen – and one that doesn't revolve around a bachelorette party or international spy rings. These feel like real Kiwi characters. That said, Hibiscus & Ruthless is good enough (endearing shaggy edges and all) to be spoken about in the same breath as international girl buddy comedies like A Date For Mad Mary and Muriel's Wedding. It also reminded me of cross-cultural, intergenerational-dramadies like East is East or Bend it Like Beckham.
This is the Samoan-Kiwi female answer to Sione's Wedding we've been waiting for and marks out Vaiaoga-Ioasa as, one wag in the preview audience commented, our potential "next Taika". I can't wait to see what he does next.