Here’s a light Indonesian dramedy about a teen who comes to New York to find the Mom who left him back in Jakarta over a dozen years before.
Yes, it’s a “fish out of water” comedy, after a fashion. And yes, the deck in this Islamic Indonesia screenplay is stacked against poor Mom (Marissa Anita), whom we see in a flashback say goodbye to a little boy and a confused, deflated husband. She is “pursuing” her “dream,” to become a singer in the Big Apple. The kid overheard parental quarrels as the months passed and Mom refused to return with a self-absorbed “I can’t go back and be NOTHING.”
When we meet near-adult Ali (Iqbaal Dhiafakhri Ramadhan) he is reaching out, composing a hearfelt message online for her. Only he doesn’t know where she is. It’s only after his father’s death that Ali finds the postcards and letters, the plane tickets Mom sent for them to come see her.
And a pleasant family gathering comes a tad unglued when Ali finds out they were in on the deception, that they never forgave Mia for “abandoning” her family. There’s nothing for it but to rent out the house he inherited and fly to New York to track her down.
The trail isn’t totally cold, but the apartment in Queens she once rented is now home to a quartet of women her age, one a former roommate. These boisterous, hard-working women are determined to finish raising the money to open a restaurant. Sure, kid, you can stay here (in English and Indonesian with English subtitles). Sure, we’ll help you find Mom. Yes, you’ll need to help us out on the rent.
“Ali & the Queens” as it titled on The Internet Movie Database (“Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens” on Netflix) is lightly charming, in its own way. But to stick with the game of cards analogy, the filmmakers leave an awful lot of money on the table, underdeveloping many a comic or tragi-comic possibility, mainly to beat up the abandoned-her-kid Mom.
The four women — the house-cleaner Party (Nirina Zubir), sexy masseuse Chinta (Happy Salma), cook and single-mom Ance (Tika Panggabean) and hustler who got hustled the day she arrived, and now supports herself gambling at chess and mahjong and what have you Biyah (Asri Welas) — flirt with being greedy enough to sucker the kid out of all his cash to realize their “dream.” But that would have been edgy, and nothing here comes close to that.
The search for Mom is haphazard and short. Her reaction to being found is…pretty much what you’d expect.
And then there’s the teen daughter of Ance, pretty, arty and helpful Eva (Aurora Ribero) who becomes Ali’s crush.
Every New Yorker they meet is pleasant, supportive and helpful? Even in Queens, that’s a stretch. Ali’s hopes of going to art school, maybe becoming an animator (we see him animating his drawings) are met with “Sure, you’ll get a scholarship.” And money?
“This is New York, man. Money is EASY to find if you look!”
Not nearly enough is done with how “American” the Indonesian have all become — drinking alcohol, swearing.
In short, there’s not much in the way of struggle, too little conflict and almost every rough edge has been rubbed off, save for Mom the Abandoner.
“Coming to America” narratives are coming back as a genre, but you’re going to have to do better than this mushy movie selling an absurdly softhearted fantasy version of New York if you want Western audiences to buy in.
MPA Rating: TV-14, alcohol, mild profanity
Cast: Iqbaal Dhiafakhri Ramadhan, Marissa Anita, Aurora Ribero, Nirina Zubir, Tika Panggabean, Happy Salma and Asri Welas
Credits: Directed by Lucky Kaswandi, script by Ginatri S. Noer. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:40