Hideous Kinky  (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Hideous Kinky (1999) was once characterized by Junior as "mega-boring," and Scoop, as I recall, was not very impressed either.

Kate Winslet takes her two daughters from London, where her long time boyfriend moved on to another woman, and goes to Marrakech on a "hippie" Odyssey to discover herself and expose her girls to the world. Even as an idealist in Morocco, however, lack of funds is a major bummer. She ends up in an affair with a local, Said Taghmaoui, and when he gets in trouble at work, the four of them take a road trip. The film is mostly about the relationships among Winslett and her two daughters, and so is a character driven drama.

Viewers are divided as to the merit of the film, but everyone agrees on two points. Winslet was very good in the part, and the cinematography is marvelous, capturing Morocco perfectly. My guess is that women can identify with a woman trying to find fulfillment, while raising two daughters in difficult circumstances.

Scoop's comments in white:

Actually, this film came quite close to being an excellent one, failing only because it did not make an important point clear, and thus lost the subtlety and irony of the story.

When I watched the movie, I thought to myself, "Surely nobody could be this naive and foolish. Even in the hippie days, I never met a woman this simple and stupid, unless she was seriously drugged out. This is unrealistic". And anybody who has been to North Africa can't think that this film portrays it with any completeness. Sure there are some magnificent sites, some of the most spectacular in the world, but there are also some of the grimiest (and smelliest) living conditions in the world. This story seems like it was written by a five year old.

Guess what? It was. After I saw the movie, I realized that the book is a true story which was written by one of the two daughters, the younger one, and it was supposed to represent a five year old's view of the era. Then I got interested and read the book. In fact, it is the story of Esther Freud's actual childhood trek through Morocco with her mother and her older sister. It is told in a five year old's voice. Although the author was grown when she wrote the novel, it is remembered as any of us would remember incidents from our pre-school days, so the child's point of view has a certain authenticity. Esther really tried to remember how she perceived it all back then. Her family is rather famous. The author's father is the artist Lucian Freud, and her great grandfather is none other than THE Freud, ol' Siggy himself. It seems to me that if the film had really communicated that a child was narrating, it could have been much more powerful. For example, the film could have presented her picture postcard view of Morocco, even using her actual narration from the book, then pulled back from her point of view to show the rest of the picture, the squalor and crime, through someone else's eyes.

Hideous Kinky is not a novel about a journey through an exotic country as seen through an innocent's eyes, but about that innocent's slowly coming to grips with the realization that she had a deeply embarrassing mother, and a distant father. Mom seems oblivious to the kid's needs, absorbed completely with her selfish search for "enlightenment" and personal "freedom", wandering from lover to lover and from one form of wacky religious zealotry to another. 


Winslet shows breasts in a sex scene with Taghmaoui, who shows all.

"Oh, mom, do you have to be a sufi?"

The book is also marked by a clear delineation between a first half in which the kids see the fun of their situation, and a second half when they first lose their initial trust for their mother and then finally become aware of the ugliness and dangers inherent in their lives. The film handles that change much more subtly, probably too subtly because the film makes the character of the mother seem too sympathetic to make the story work properly. That works fine if she's being seen through the eyes of an adoring five year old, but not if she's being seen objectively.

The film doesn't make at all clear that she is a selfish, embarrassing, neglectful neurotic. For example, Bea survived one incident through sheer luck when mom left her with some people she didn't really know, simply because it was convenient for mom's latest spiritual discovery. Mom came back to find the caretakers gone, their house deserted. This episode might have resulted in great tragedy, but actually ended up with the girl in far better hands than her mother's!

Now you'd think it would be hard to interpret that incident with any spin other than that the mother was irresponsible and ultimately fortunate not to have gotten her daughter killed or sold into white slavery. But as the film presents her, she could just as easily be seen as a loving mind-expanding hippie who was bringing an irreplaceable experience to her daughters. As you can see from Tuna's comments above, it is possible to see the mother as a woman seeking fulfillment while raising two daughters in difficult circumstances, thoughtfully exposing her children to the world. Of course, it is also possible to see a neurotic who flits from one wacky idea to another, and whose selfishness actually places her daughters in those difficult circumstances in the first place, but the interpretation you arrive at will depend on your own POV rather than the filmmaker's. He doesn't have one.

Again, that is fine if we understand that the story is seen through a five year old's eyes, because the little girl would not have understood the real danger to her sister, and would have told the story without judgment. At the time that I watched it, I thought I was supposed to be seeing the Winslet character as she really was, as seen though the standard cinema devices of omniscient or impartial narration, and not as she was pictured by a pre-school child. I could see that the film's POV was juvenile, naive, and simplistic, but I thought that was a flaw. I thought the entire film was just a cynically commercial ploy aimed at the purse strings of 11 year old girls who think Marrakech is really like this. I didn't realize I was actually supposed to be looking through the eyes of someone who was juvenile, naive and simplistic.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1. Lovely transfer of a colorfully photographed film.

Establishing the POV would have resolved my misgivings about the dubious credibility of the characterizations and the film's rosy-tinted view of the Moroccan world. If that point had been clear, instead of rolling my eyes over how naive and simplistic it was, I would have been nodding my head in appreciation of how intentionally naive and simplistic it was, and how well it caught the tiny girl's world-view.

By the way, the title Hideous Kinky has nothing to do with the book or the movie, other than that it is the name of a nonsense word game the two girls play.

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it 6.1/10, , with slightly stronger appeal (6.5) among female voters.
  • Box office: A bomb. It grossed about a million dollars in the USA, and about a half million in the UK.

Miscellaneous ...


Special Scoopy awards for excellence in criticism go to:

Order of merit in humor: Mr Cranky, who said "Director Gillies MacKinnon's film is about discovery, yet I waited like a buzzing fly around a horribly constipated dog for MacKinnon to discover something, anything. Perhaps his discovery will be after the movie, when he finds out that about a hundred other directors also used White Rabbit and Somebody to Love in their soundtracks. MacKinnon is a former painter and art professor, and that elitist ego bleeds out of this film like a man shot through the chest with a cannonball."

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Tuna says, "I personally liked the film, but related to the "hippy" theme, and frequently like character driven films anyway, but the proper score is probably C+ as a character driven chick flick." Scoop says, "probably a C rather than a C+. A nuclear bomb at the box office and not really a very good film, but a film with some strengths. It is a beautiful, picture postcard tour of Morocco. It was a great idea, and could have been an excellent film with the right script, but perhaps the childish narration was too literary to translate to the screen."

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