Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Hideous Kinky

By Marc Savlov

JUNE 1, 1999: 

D: Gillies MacKinnon; with Kate Winslet, Said Taghmaoui, Bella Riza, Carrie Mullan, Pierre Clementi, Abigail Cruttenden, Ahmed Boulane, Sira Stampe, Amidou. (R, 99 min.)

To my immense disappointment, MacKinnon's title is grossly misleading: There is nothing particularly hideous nor kinky about Hideous Kinky. The phrase instead arrives at random as two young girls' hollered epithet, directed with varying degrees of playfulness, at their mother Julia (Winslet), who has dragged them from their London home in order to traipse around sunny Morocco in 1972. The reason for the jaunt is obliquely referred to as some sort of familial distress; Mom hates Dad, Dad loves the ladies, Mom and kids hasten to the hippie outpost of Marrakesh to sort things out and dig the oh-so-groovy vibes. (Dad's probably getting the better end of the deal here, you think.) Adapted from Esther Freud's novel (hence MacKinnon's title), the film is a gorgeous panoply of exotic locations, music, and, one hopes, attitudes. For all its wild-times-in-the-hinterlands promise, however, Hideous Kinky is undermined by a fundamental prosaicness in its narrative. Julia and her five- and seven-year-old daughters, Lucy and Bea (Mullan and Riza, both excellent in their film debuts), have come to escape, but Julia, at least, finds that no matter where you go, there you are. The kids are no slouches, either. Lucy is content to subsist on the local culture as long as Mom's around, but then, she's living in a five-year-old's paradise, full of new sights and wonders popping up at every turn. Bea, on the other hand, sees through the charade. "I want to be normal," she cries, pining for a backpack and uniform so she can at least attend the local Catholic-run school with the other kids. She has her BS meter ratcheted up to a Spinal-Tap-ean "11," and she's not having any of Julia's peace-and-love escapism. When Julia falls for a local Marrakesh street performer, Bilal (Taghmaoui), the story briefly threatens to carry its own weight for a bit. During a visit to his remote village home, we find, along with Julia (who's eagerly angling toward some sort of expatriate, victimized Sufi-hood) that Bilal already has a wife; he's ostracized by the elders of his town, who gather around and speak in whispers of the shame of abandonment. It's all shades of Julia's current raison d'être, but she takes it in hippified stride. MacKinnon makes terrific use of the Morrocan landscape, sun-dappled fields, clamorous, scurrying marketplaces, gauzy violet twilights, but without any real narrative thrust, none of it matters a whit more than those visually titillating but mentally vacant half-hours that clutter up the Travel Channel. Indeed, it's as if Hideous Kinky were a travelogue for the armchair Sixties retro crowd. Despite winning performances by Winslet and the girls, 't's all enough to make you echo George Thorogood and say, "Hey, Julia, why don't you 'get a haircut and get a real job? (Like your big brother Bob.)'"
2.0 stars

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