Ruth­less com­edy great view­ing

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HIBISCUS & RUTH­LESS (PG, 97 MINS) DI­RECTED BY SQS

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 help 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.

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 to be spo­ken about in the same breath as in­ter­na­tional come­dies like A Date For Mad Mary and Muriel’s Wed­ding. It also re­minded me of cross-cul­tural, in­ter­gen­er­a­tional­dra­madies 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. – James Croot

Hibiscus & Ruth­less pro­vides a show­case for two new bud­ding Kiwi act­ing stars - Anna-Ma­ree Thomas and Suivai Pil­isipi Au­ta­gavaia.

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