Review: Apron Strings

The latest NZ feature film is a real cultural potpourri set in the South Auckland suburb of Otahuhu, exploring the lives and tribulations of two families struggling in very different ways with matters of identity and control.

The central theme in the film is concerned with the often complex relationship between mothers and their children. We see the paralleled lives of two families – the suburban Pakeha family, where long-suffering mother Lorna (Jennifer Ludlam) tries to motivate her gambling addicted son Barry (Scott Wills), and the glamourous affluent Indian TV star Anita (Laila Rouass) as she strives to protect her beloved university son from the tangled web of lies and shame that surrounds her family’s past. As Michael (Nathan Whitaker) forms his own relationship with Anita’s estranged sister Tara (Leela Patel), the relationships begin to unravel.

If this all sounds a bit heavy, it’s not. Director Sima Urale injects a great portion of humour into what could be fairly grim subject matter. She manages to draw out some great comedic performances from the characters – Ludlam’s Lorna with her vitriolic dispersions on the Vietnamese and Pacific Islanders invading ‘her’ suburb is both heartfelt and amusing and Jodie Rimmer as Lorna’s rebellious daughter Virginia is hilarious.

The common thread running through is that of food – Lorna runs an old fashioned cake shop, Anita is the host of a flashy modern Indian cookery show while her sister Anita runs a home style curry house. From the quaint kitsch wedding cakes to the exotic Indian delicacies, the food is all shot as beautifully as the entire film. Director of Photography Rewa Harra switches from infusing the film with the sumptuous golden light of the TV set and the curry house to the pastel haze of the suburban house scenes, dictating mood with ease and grace.

On the downside, Nathan Whitaker playing the male lead Michael failed to exude a strong screen presence, and while Laila Rouass of Footballers Wives fame bought a touch of glamour to the film, it never felt as if her character was developed enough to allow the audience to form any real empathy with her. Although light in nature, the rather limp ending could easily have been moulded into something more poignant.

The release of Apron Strings by Samoan born Auckland Director Sima Urale has been hotly anticipated since her critically acclaimed short films O Tamaiti and Velvet Dreams. While this film was beautifully made and entertaining, I can’t help but think that the best is yet to come from Ms. Urale.