The broad comedy and melodrama of writer-director Yasmin Ahmad’s “Gubra” suggest it was rushed into production to capitalize on the success of his sleeper hit “Sepet,” which dealt with touchy Malaysian race/class issues via a disarmingly naturalistic romance. There’s enough in this cluttered sequel to assure some fest travel and confirm Ahmed as a notable rising talent. But pic should’ve been better.
Orked (Sharifah Amani Yahya) is back, apparently several years after the accidental death of the boyfriend that ended “Sepet” on a maudlin note. She’s now a jet-setting professional married to ad exec Arif (Adlin Aman Ramlie), but still very much involved with the day-to-day hysteria of her eccentric parents (Ida Nerina Hussein, Harith Iskander Musa) and their formidable housekeeper (Adibah Noor). When dad suffers complications from diabetes, Orked crosses paths with dreamy Alan (Alan Yun Kam Lun), brother of her late b.f. Mutual attraction is instantaneous. Conveniently, Orked soon discovers her husband has a mistress, prompting much teary soul-searching before a less-than-surprising life decision.
Meanwhile, across town in a slum, a devout Muslim couple befriends two prostitutes out to better their lives. Kiah’s (Juliana Ibrahim) most lucrative client beats her, while Temah’s (Rozie Rashid) struggle to raise a child alone in a hostile environment worsens after a grim medical diagnosis.
Laden with subplots, these two parallel storylines grow cramped trying to be fit into a single feature, and Ahmad offers no compelling reason why they need to. In contrast to the first film’s slice-of-life ease, “Gubra” piles crisis upon crisis, amping up the shrillness of hitherto welcome comic characters and the angst of serious ones. Even as the whole feels over-compressed, individual scenes drag.
Ahmad is clearly trying to trump her prior achievement by putting more balls in the air. But despite numerous good story and performance elements, “Gubra” emerges unfocused and overburdened. It’s not at all helped by a baffling post-credits sequence, which raises possibility that all the preceding might have been a dream.
Tech and design aspects are solid.