Hideous Kinky

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“Hideous Kinky” is neither hideous nor kinky. It’s also not terribly interesting.

The film, directed by Gillies MacKinnon and based on Esther Freud’s autobiographical novel, takes place in Marrakech, Morocco, in 1972. This was a time when many people, including rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, retreated to Marrakech in order to “find themselves,” or whatever it was the hippies were doing in those days. Flower child Julia (Kate Winslet) is among this crowd, living out a day-to-day, rootless existence there with her two young children, Bea (Bella Rizza) and Lucy (Carrie Mullan).

They encounter a street performer named Bilal (Said Taghmaoui), whom Julia takes up a relationship with, despite having a “husband” (perhaps not entirely accurate) back home in England, from whom she is still expecting a support check. The girls start to wonder if Bilal, whom they like (Bea more reservedly), is their new daddy, and the odd little family starts a nomadic life through Morocco.

“Hideous Kinky” is heavy on atmosphere and light on plot. The real conflict is with 8-year-old Bea and her mum. Bea is smart enough to know that Julia is behaving irresponsibly, having sacrificed real life for this selfish fantasy world. Bea wants to be normal, but that’s not possible when mom’s skinny-dipping in a lake with a Moroccan. Julia truly cares about her children, and ultimately becomes willing to give them the stability they need — but only after Bea almost dies of strep throat and is virtually abducted by a well-meaning but overzealous Christian do-gooder.

Kate Winslet is to be admired for taking on a non-mainstream project like this right after “Titanic”; however, one would think last year’s Oscar-nominee would turn in a better performance. She’s pretty, in a very engaging way — not that glamorous, made-up supermodel kind of way, but in a very natural, appealing sense — and she is a likable performer. But she doesn’t really DO much in this film, other than flit around from one thing to another. We see very little real emotion from her, even as she has nightmares about Bea’s safety. It’s more of a generic “sit-up-in-bed-and-breathe-heavily” sequence than anything genuine. (It should be noted, though, that the nightmare is truly chilling — kudos to the director.)

The best performance is from Bella Rizza, as Bea. This young girl shows more range and depth than everyone else in the movie; indeed, the book is told from her point of view, and it’s too bad the movie isn’t, too. Director MacKinnon said the change was because when we only saw Bea’s point of view, we never knew Julia’s thoughts — but with Winslet’s one-note performance, we STILL never know Julia’s thoughts!

“Hideous Kinky” will probably be a nostalgia piece for those who participated in the hippie movement of the early ’70s, but there’s little else to engage anyone who can’t relate to hitchhiking through Marrakech.

C (; R, nudity, some sexuality and scattered profanity.)

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