Film Review: Understanding and Familial Love Triumphs Over Social Taboos in Romantic Comedy ‘Not My Mother’s Baking’
Daughter of Malay-Muslim celebrity chef falls in love with the son of Chinese roast pork seller.
Director: Remi M. Sali
Cast: Siti Mastura Alwi, Sarah Ariffin, Vincent Tee, Kaydash Cheung, Zack Zainal, Christina Hon
Language: English, Mandarin, Malay
Runtime: 112 minutes
Local romantic comedy Not My Mother’s Baking reimagines Romeo and Juliet for modern Singapore. The film is bold in its challenge of religious, cultural and racial sensitivities in the country, holding the accolades for being the first Singaporean film to feature a Malay lead speaking English for most of the film, and for being the first film in the world to showcase the Islamic conversion of a man led by a woman religious leader.
However, it was difficult to evade the pervasive feeling that Not My Mother’s Baking felt like a government-commissioned educational piece rather than a full-fledged narrative feature, especially with its technical choices and a central romance never too held down by societal obstacles. Still, the film remains a lighthearted comedy that proudly champions the power of love and demonstrates how it can triumph over seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
One close comparison to the film would be with Sepet — even if Yasmin Ahmad’s lovebirds did not have to overcome obstacles quite as glaringly palpable as those in Not My Mother’s Baking. United through a video project, Edwin (Kaydash Cheung) slowly but surely falls for Sarah (Sarah Ariffin), the daughter of a Malay-Muslim celebrity chef. Cultural and religious obstacles aside, there is another seemingly insurmountable hurdle: Edwin’s family runs a roast pork hawker stall.
There are hijinks and awkward conversations to be had as Edwin tap dances around questions about his family’s business, but Not My Mother’s Baking handles the topic maturely once the truth is exposed. The issue is examined through the concerns of both party’s families, with much of the film’s latter half exploring the possibilities of understanding and patience in overcoming cultural and religious differences.
While the film shirks away from the broader view beyond the family units, this approach does highlight touching scenes shared between parents and child. Siti and Sarah bring their off-screen chemistry as mother and daughter to the film, sharing poignant moments as they work towards not letting Siti’s celebrity status and Sarah’s (on-screen) future husband get between their bond.
Where Not My Mother’s Baking shows its weakness is with its romance. Their bond is forged working together on Sarah’s cooking show but the heat of the sparks between the actors is not as strong as the narrative would suggest. How and why they fall in love feels almost immediate, dampening both the spiciness of its love triangle and the eventual triumph of what is still largely seen as a taboo union.
There are some puzzling choices with how the film is presented as well. Not My Mother’s Baking is joint together by narration by Edwin’s father in Mandarin recounting the couple’s journey, which felt like a missed opportunity without similar voice-overs from Sarah’s family. The number of cuts and repeated usage of arc shots within each conversation also distract from the film’s drama.
Still, the commitment to pushing boundaries should not be understated. Flaws aside, it still holds many aforementioned firsts while showing what can be realised and accomplished by a strong family unit. Sensitive topics, namely of Edwin’s embracement of Islam, is handled particularly well with how the film demonstrates that familial love is (and should be) universal no matter the differences in religion and creed.
While the film presents a peachy view of interracial and interreligious marriage, the process to realise this vision is no small feat and should be commended. It is exactly through its lighthearted nature that emphasises the possibilities of progress. There are definitely flaws in Not My Mother’s Baking, but it is films like these, with an eye on positive change, that will go a long way in normalising deeper, more meaningful intercultural dialogue.
Not My Mother’s Baking made its world premiere at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival and its international premiere at the Five Flavours Asian Film Festival in Warsaw. The film will see its box office release starting tomorrow, 10 December, screening exclusively at Filmgarde Cineplexes.
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