Hibiscus & Ruthless: Family, Friendships and Faalavelave

Hibiscus and Ruthless, from the maker of Three Wise Cousins, opens in cinemas nationwide Thursday Jan 25. We talked with the leading ladies at the premiere; hear from them in the next issue of SPASIFIK #SPK71. We left the theatre with a keen appreciation of the relationship between a Samoan mum and her daughter- but especially of friendships. Without any spoilers LAUMATA LAUANO gives you the low-down on Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa’s latest relatable flick about family, friendships and fa’alavelave (familial obligations requiring money).



The premise of the film is simple enough; we have the ultimate obedient Samoan girl Hibiscus (Suivai Pilisipi Autagavaia) and her long-time friend Ruth (Anna-Maree Thomas), an unruly palagi (white) girl nicknamed Ruthless who’s basically part of their family.


The two best friends are navigating their final and most important year of university, Hibiscus studies, works part-time and keeps a fa’alavelave account. And not just for show either, her fa'alavelave account probably gets more exercise than she does, at least at the start of the film.


Side note: I liked how the film portrays fa'alavelave as what it is, a bit of a financial burden. But at the same time we're shown how the collective nature of Samoan culture means we mostly work together to lighten the load.


However back to Hibiscus in her last year of university, it has become hardest year for her in terms of following the ‘no going out, and no boyfriends’ rules set by her overbearing Samoan mum (Nafanuatele Lafitaga Mafaufau Peters).


Just when Hibiscus needs to focus on her studies the most, suitors start lining up in all areas of her life. Not wanting to fail her mother, she enlists the help of Ruth to keep her on the straight and (single) narrow.


But Ruth’s ruthless surveillance and gorilla interference can't keep them at bay forever.

What makes this film a great follow-up to Stallone’s male-dominated debut Three Wise Cousins is the way it addresses relationships we often don’t question - that of unwavering and unquestioned obedience required of our Pacific daughters.


Over the generations covered, it’s interesting how the relationships differ among Hibiscus and her mum, her mum’s relationship with hers, as well as Hibiscus’ relationship with her grandmother. Ruth’s barely seen relationship with her mother is in contrast to Hibiscus’ relationships with hers.


The female focus in Hibiscus & Ruthless is refreshing, we have two leading ladies and a female-heavy supporting cast of three-dimensional characters.


The quirky, memorable supporting characters - such as Hibiscus’ lenient, lovable grandmother (Yvonne Maea-Brown) and the suitors who never cease to surprise us, serve to build a fuller glimpse into our main characters’ lives.



Speaking of our mains, the chemistry between Suivai and Thomas is great, which you can put down not only to good acting but an off-screen friendship they seemed to have developed.


It wouldn’t have been believable if Hibiscus and Ruthless weren’t believable as friends.


Suivai made for an engaging obedient daughter wanting to live a little but also be the perfect obedient daughter, to the point where you could actually feel her frustration, while Anna-Maree Thomas was brilliant as the ulavale (naughty) but loyal Ruth.


To learn at least a grasp on the Samoan language, coming in fresh, is a tall order and Anna-Maree made it seem like she actually was adopted by a Samoan family and immersed in Samoan culture.


Of course, it wouldn’t have been believable without the stern matriarch Nafanuatele Lafitaga Mafaufau-Peters portrayed onscreen- a modernised Samoan mum who holds old traditional values with an iron fist. As Lafitaga's first ever role, she does wonderfully- conveying that scary inner strength a Samoan mother has while bringing her into the 21st century.


The humour relies heavily on our familiarity of Pacific culture, but there were also some universal jokes put in there to catch us all.


There’s plenty of teachable moments in this film, but not just for the children, which is rare- especially in film with a Pacific centre.


Often we’re told not to question our parents; blind obedience is a key to a happy life. But Hibiscus & Ruthless really steps it up and offer some nuggets of gold for our parents, too.


The film itself ends a tad abruptly, but it’s a good flick to catch with the family or with friends.


Check it out in NZ cinemas, out now.