Hideous Kinky (1999)

Kate WinsletStarring Kate Winslet, Saïd Taghmaoui, Bella Riza, Carrie Mullan, Pierre Clémenti, Abigail Cruttenden.
Written by Billy MacKinnon based on the novel by Esther Freud.
Directed by Gillies MacKinnon.

Grade: D-

Review by Carlo Cavagna.

The title and the movie are a perfectly matched pair. Both are pretentious, and neither makes any sense. The expression "hideous kinky" is the result of a word game played by the children in the movie, and one can only imagine that it is meant to evoke an image of something simultaneously frightening and intriguing. Instead, what those words evoked, in the art-house theater where I saw a preview for Hideous Kinky a year ago, is peals of laughter. They may as well have named the film Existential Weasel or Intrepid Lunchpail.

The plot, or at least what can be understood of it, is this: Julia (Kate Winslet) is in Morocco on a journey of spiritual discovery and has dragged along her two daughters, Bea (Bella Riza) and Lucy (Carrie Mullan). Bea longs for a more conventional lifestyle, and both long for a father figure, who appears in the form of Bilal (Saïd Taghmaoui), a handsome local with a questionable past. Can Julia and the girls create a family unit with Bilal? Will Julia continue with her self-absorbed peregrination and find fulfillment with the Sufi mystics, or will she pay more attention to her children's needs? And who among us will care? Taghmaoui and Winslet

Hideous Kinky is set in the early 1970s, when, of course, everybody was yearning for spiritual fulfillment–and smoking pot, and taking risks, and rejecting materialism, and so on, and so forth. We can tell that it's the early 1970s, because songs such as America's A Horse With No Name are helpfully included on the soundtrack Get it? Julia is riding through the desert on a horse with no name, or rather in a beat-up pickup truck with a couple of weirdos, which is close enough. Also, Kate Winslet has a 1970s hairdo–long and straight (a style that is also au courant today, judging from what we see in People magazine), and a brain-fried hippie makes an occasional cameo.

Apart from obvious lyrics by insipid 1970s rock bands named after continents, artier-than-thou director Gillies MacKinnon (A Simple Twist of Fate; The Playboys) doesn't make it easy to decode the story. MacKinnon is less interested in spinning a good yarn or coming to any meaningful conclusions than he is in being arty and affected. He has an irritating habit of truncating scenes before they're actually finished. It would be an interesting stylistic decision–if it commented on the plot or underscored the conflicts. Mullan, Winslet, and RizaEven though the rudimentary plot is ultimately unimportant, MacKinnon's narrative style forces you to spend more time piecing together the tale than contemplating Hideous Kinky's thematic dimensions. This is unfortunate, given that Hideous Kinky is about a numinous quest, the exploration of an exotic culture, and the relationship between an unconventional mother and her daughters. The disjointed direction limits Hideous Kinky's scope and robs it of its comprehensibility.

Although Hideous Kinky is one of the most pointlessly pretentious movies we are likely to see this year, I can't give in an 'F,' because Kate Winslet and Saïd Taghmaoui are appealing performers–particularly Winslet. She is luminous. You could tar-and-feather her, dip her in mud, cover her in soot, and she would still glow. If you're a fan, you may wish to rent Hideous Kinky just for her. If, on the other hand, you are attracted to art-house movies with erotic themes primarily for the sex and nudity, you may be disappointed to find that Hideous Kinky doesn't live up to its titillating title. Winslet's breasts make an appearance within the first twenty minutes; Taghmaoui moons us about halfway through, and then you can turn it off.

Review © November 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 1999 Stratosphere Entertainment.

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