THE STORY – After his father’s passing, a teenager sets out for New York in search of his estranged mother and soon finds love and connection in unexpected places.
THE CAST – Iqbaal Dhiafakhri Ramadhan, Aurora Ribero & Nirina Zubir
THE TEAM – Lucky Kuswandi (Director), Ginatri S. Noer & Muhammad Zaidy (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 100 Minutes
By Bintang Lestada
What makes a family “a family” is usually love and heartbreak. Directed by Lucky Kuswandi, he has made a humongous splash in both national and international film scenes with a wide range of oeuvres from the trans superhero film “Madame X,” the moody stories of the marginalized women in “In the Absence of the Sun,” all the way to the Cannes-approved tale of “The Fox Exploits the Tiger’s Might.” This time, he collaborates with Gina S. Noer, who has launched national success, especially in recent pictures such as “Cemara’s Family” and “Two Blue Stripes.” For “Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens” (translated to “Ali & the Queens of Queens”), they join forces to bring to life a film that touches on both of their expertise but also challenges the ever-changing concept of what family is and/or should be.
“Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens” begins with Ali (Iqbaal Ramadhan) witnessing the premature crumbling of his family for a dream they once used to cherish. Ali’s mother, Mia (Marissa Anita), left the family to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a singer in New York City. Ultimately, Ali’s parents separated due to irreconcilable perspectives on taking care of a family versus becoming one’s own person. Flash forward to Ali as a high school graduate, packing up his life alone after his father passes away from a heart attack. Restraint follows him around until he finds letters from his mother that his father had kept from him, including two tickets to New York for Ali and his dad.
Ali’s ultimate mission becomes looking for the missing piece of his family, so he makes the foolish decision to find his estranged mother by going to New York City alone. As Ali arrives, the film’s perspective shifts to the “Queens.” We get to see a glimpse of four working-class Indonesian women who happen to live in Queens, New York. The ease in which they navigate life indicates that they have conquered both the secrets of life and of hardship, dubbing themselves “Queens” because they know how to own it. This group includes the bubbly and nurturing Party (Nirina Zubir), the street smart Biyah (Asri Welas), the holistic healer Chinta (Happy Salma), and the helicopter mom Ance (Tika Panggabean). These women would then become the heart and soul of the film and what leads to Ali’s character development and growth.
Unfortunately, despite being the foremost titular role, Ali isn’t written in a way to be described as a character who is full of life. Several scenes are supposed to be the climaxes of the film, but instead of them being about Ali and his family, these scenes are driven by the women. The scene where Ali and his mother finally confront each other about their absence is supposed to be something that moves the story forward, but Anita is barely given enough to chew on. This scene is then followed by one where Ali has an altercation with the Queens. This would culminate into the destruction of the familial relationships that Ali had made before meeting the Queens.
This is where the concept of the chosen family comes in. It’s a concept familiar to queer people where they find bonds with those not related to them by blood but by shared experiences. It’s the only kind of family that, though strange, makes sense. Even though Ali’s birth mother disappoints him, he gets to find his mother in a way in the Queens. All of them seem to be a caricature of what a mother should be, and they are all maternal in their own ways, which makes “Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens” feel so special.
In this film, vulnerability is the ingredient of strength. It’s reserved for the people who have been through life with either nothing or everything. You accumulate pain and trauma so much so that you find someone to fill the gaps. Above all else, the New York setting is so full of life that it makes loneliness seem so strenuous and energetic. The foreignness of the city isn’t parallel to the Indonesian sense of home in the Queens’ apartment. This would become the fluke of the film as it was supposed to paint New York City with the sense of home that Ali has been missing.
Luckily, New York City has the charm. Lucky Kuswandi’s beautiful direction helps shape this narrative into a quintessential New York film — you just can’t help but love it. Gina S Noer’s screenplay leaves no room to wonder about the black-and-white outcome, who’s wrong and who’s not. It’s less about the fractures that we make along the journey and more about the result that mends the immediate ruptures. Though the film is convoluted by the imbalance of the characters, if we choose to ignore it, it’s a gem.
In the end, the film is trying to take a gamble of distancing itself from the traditional route of the coming-of-age genre and chooses the lateral move instead. The emptiness that Ali has been experiencing in his life becomes the foundation of his determination. Sure, the frustrations of his character annoy the viewer at times, but we must remind ourselves that Ali is naive because he’s fresh out of high school — none of us knows what life is, but we are forever bound by the excitement of the adventure ahead.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A charming coming-of-age story about a chosen family with solid leading performances from the Queens. The New York backdrop forgives certain illogical plotlines and is swoon-worthy. It’s a comfortable film to watch when you want to relax.
THE BAD – Aside from Lucky Kuswandi and Gina S. Noer’s respective works that are filled with social messages, this one falls short for its inconsistency of both the character of Ali and the (multiple) narrative climaxes.