Soap operatic and silly, patriarchal and patriarchy-bashing, the Indonesian dramedy “100% Halal” plays like a commentary on living a rigidly “Islamic Law” life in 2021.
Jastis Arimba begins by sending up traditional marriage and ends with an overwrought confession of sins and an earnest quote from the Koran. The movie in between abandons one tone for another, takes us down dramatic dead ends and gives the impression of a young filmmaker going about as far as cultural and religious tradition will allow him, and then some.
But it’s a real eye-opener about a culture whose films seldom play in North America and hints at a freer, more honest dive into romantic comedy from the director of a couple of films about “The Power of Love.”
The goofy opening has eager youngsters Anisa (Anisa Rahma) and Putra (Anandito Dwis) meeting with a magistrate because they want to get married. As he’s 20 and she’s just 18, the official goes to some pains to find out why. Was this arranged? You don’t have to submit to that, depending on the conditions and criteria, he reassures the girl.
“You must not be pressured into it,” he says. You can’t be members of the same family either. And on he goes (in Indonesian with English subtitles).
“You two know each other well?”
“YES,” the groom affirms.
“No” the would-be bride confesses.
How can this BE? Well, “I follow her on Instagram!” And Anisa? “”Dad chose Putra.”
Whatever, you crazy kids. No sense pulling off one’s kufi cap in frustration. They’re lectured on the Islamic prayer couples must learn, “the prayer for…the ACT!” But they’re confused.
“What are the kids calling copulation these days,” the magistrate wants to know?
“ML” Anisa’s giggling girlfriends (Fitria Rasyidi and Arafah Rianti) blurt out, for “making love.”
Those potty-mouthed Indonesian teens.
The prayer begs Allah to “keep the Devil away from us” as they consummate the marriage, and yes, that revelation is played for a laugh.
The movie we’re set up for is light, a goof on marriage traditions and marrying young in an Islamic country, with Anisa’s best-selling author/provocateur Dad (Ariyo Wahab) basically offering his daughter at lectures as a way of testing/proving his “marry young” because “dating leads to ADULTERY” hypothesis.
His book’s title? “100% Halal.”
Putra approaches author Ilham after a seminar and asks for Anisa’s hand. I mean, he’s following her on Instagram, after all. Dad agrees. What kind of father would allow such a union, just to make a point? Aside from one whose last name is “Kinsey,” I mean? A patriarchal traditionalist with books to sell, apparently.
No, neither of the spouses is ready. Anisa’s frantic wedding night consoling of her outraged grandmother ends with a frantic bathroom Facetime call to her pals to “Help me out here. How do you…start?“
“Have you brushed your teeth?”
She has. And the next thing we know, she’s sharing her EPT stick on Instagram.
There are several laughs in this lighthearted opening act — the naivete, the sending up of quaint, dated traditions (a seriously transactional wedding ceremony mainly between husband and father-of-the-bride) and a light but under-developed mocking of those who embrace them like Anisa’s Dad. It’s a crying shame “100% Halal” doesn’t stick with that tack and tone.
Because the mystery-melodrama that follows — the marriage might not be “valid” under Islamic Law, Anisa frantically searches for her birth mother to fix it — isn’t nearly as interesting.
There’s a big “secret” we can guess almost the minute we hear Anisa is adopted, and the weeping and wringing of hands plays overwrought and as I mentioned, soap operatic.
Far more promising threads include the way the adoring daughter basically shoves her husband onto the back burner, dragging Dad to her OB-GYN appointments (AWK-ward.), the troubling dynamic set up in this “threesome,” Anisa’s need to open her eyes and Putra’s need to insert himself between father and daughter.
Every time the naive know-it-all friends show up, something funny happens. Trying to get information out of a screwball Youtube novelty song singer goes awry. Checking into a hotel with a leering “We don’t let out rooms by the hour” clerk earns a stern “Watch your MOUTH or may thunder strike you!” from Putra.
Sure enough, thunder claps follow.
But none of the melodramatic scenes that dominate the film’s last half come off, at least to this Western viewer. The acting is broad and hokey in the dramatic moments, deft and cute in the comic ones.
The shock of people from an older generation shrieking “ABORT it” about this or that baby whose provenance is less than Sharia-approved unsettles the comedy struggling to get out of “100% Halal.”
Arimba may be taking baby steps towards making that movie, given the official and religious restrictions he’s working under. Maybe someday he’ll get to make a 100% comedy that gets away with being, say, 75% Halal. One can hope.
MPA Rating: TV-14, adult themes and situations
Cast: Anisa Rahma, Anandito Dwis, Kinaryosih, Ariyo Wahab, Fitria Rasyidi and Arafah Rianti
Credits: Directed by Jastis Arimba, script by Jastis Arimba and Ali Eounia. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:44