Three Wise Cousins : A Review

(DISCLAIMER: This review has nothing to do - in any way, shape, content or form - with the fact that I/we had a chance to hobnob with the cast and producer of the movie at the US/Utah showing. LOL!!)

This is a film about Adam and Madam. Basically Adam (the protagonist) wants to impress this particular Madam who wants a "real island guy" as a boyfriend.  And so for the major part of his quest, Adam leaves New Zealand, where he was born and raised,  for the islands (Samoa) to learn to become a real island guy.  His cousins Mose and Tavita are his island mentors. The two are near foils of each other.  While Tavita is a Samoan spornosexual who is more patient, hopeful, optimistic and encouraging in helping Adam, Mose is the typical soga'imiti (tattooed adult man), with an "in your face" and impudent attitude. He's pessimistic, negative and demoralizing at times. Sometimes, however, I question Tavita's sincerity and patient demeanor if it is motived by his hanker for some of Adam's personal things (e.g. phone and t-shirt). Adam does get them for him in the end.

cocoa pods.
When Adam arrives in Samoa, he immediately becomes a misfit - in every way.  He is put on a crash course of some of the more difficult island tasks, like climbing a coconut tree, husking the coconut, sweeping, clearing the land, etc.  Tavita and Mose soon realize that what they're teaching Adam is the advanced level of the course; he needs "Island Guy 101" where he learns the basics first.  So they abduct him at night while he's sleeping to his (Adam's) uncle's house.  In the morning Adam wakes up to the scorn and laughter of three little boys - his new mentors.  He quickly learns the broom is not only for raking leaves as Mose and Tavita had taught him, but also a goad to incite action to doing the chores, as he and his young mentors are chased out of the house by his uncle's wife with a broom.  His introductory class starts with picking cocoa pods - not coconuts - which proves to be a much simpler task. He doesn’t have to climb the tree at all. Even cracking a cocoa pod proves a lot easier compared to cracking a coconut.  Adam learns some of the tasks and chores by observing his young teachers, things like starting the fire for cooking (the easy way - not by rubbing sticks), roasting cocoa beans, cooking food and serving and waiting on the parents/elders. More importantly Adam gets his “first job” - as a street vendor, selling Samoan cocoa.  This is definitely a foreshadow of one of the valuable lessons and changes Adam makes upon arriving back in New Zealand and working different jobs.

During all of this, Adam is taught by little boys who are essentially his peers.  Though Adam may be years older and bigger physically, he is still a little kid in every sense. His lifestyle in NZ has stunted his growth.  He has no social or communication skills as evident in his inability to talk to girls, including other handicaps that may be traced to his addiction to video games symbolized by his cherished Playstation - a contemporary societal problem.

Adam returns to NZ a changed person.  His priorities change.  He puts his own life (work and school) and his family first; even before the "Madam". First things first. He commits to be effective in helping and supporting his family and parents, prerequisites for his own goals of marriage (Madam) and starting his own family.

Storyline and Message:
The storyline, though simple and straight forward, deals with some profound issues including contemporary social problems. One of the main messages which strikes a familiar chord with immigrant Samoan parents is the clash between their traditional values and goals (often the reasons for emigrating) and their children’s sometimes prodigality, heedless and reckless behavior.  I sometimes find myself telling our children and grandchildren that I wish they would have an opportunity to be raised during part of their lives in Samoa.  If not for any other reason, it's for learning the value of hard work and not taking things for granted.

Character Arc
"Protagonists can achieve self-awareness by interacting with their environment, by enlisting the help of mentors, by changing their viewpoint, or by some other method. The result is a changed character." (Wikipedia).
Wow, is Three Cousins’ character arc patterned literally after this? ..lol... Well, based on this simple blueprint, the movie is a success.  Adam’s change and growth are clearly demonstrated.  The conflicts which advance the arc are both internal (self doubt, immaturity and defeatism) and external (against Mose, Tavita and exposure to a whole new environment).

Characters, plot, sound tracks and film score, etc.
All professionally well done. Not too shabby for a first movie for the filmmakers who used one camera and self-funded much of their venture. Faamalo lava!

Innuendos: Though truly typical of Samoan life, sexual innuendos are a little off-putting and objectionable.
Subtitles: There is a couple of times where needed subtitles are missing
Subplots: I would have liked to see one or two nice subplots.

Though Samoan children are often feted for being responsible early in their lives, it becomes double-edged  when some of them continue on the same path  and end up being young fai fatu aiga (sole family providers).  Today, some of the children are the main providers by working as street vendors, especially in the case of urban dwellers. Street vending by children in Samoa is now considered a socio-economic blight.

In the movie, Adam's father frowns on the notion that his son wants to go back to the islands. He wonders why and then mocks the plan.  The implication is that the parents leave the islands to seek opportunity and a "better life" for the children, why should they (children) want to go back?  And yet in the movie, Adam changes and grows as a result of going back home.  What similar process or program (educational or otherwise) for personal change in a tough and challenging environment, if any, is available outside Samoa for these islanders?  Or is it all a matter of willpower and personal resolve? Not everyone can or will change by going back to the islands and living like a native, in other words.

Why are children in Samoa seem more adept and responsible in doing simple chores than their counterparts outside Samoa?

In Samoa, generally, children take care of their parents even at a very early age.  They cook, they plant and harvest, they fish too, etc. They learn these roles early, hence their edge and advantage.
Outside Samoa, it’s the reverse. Parents take care of their children. Not only because it’s the norm in these countries, but the parents want their children to commit their time and efforts to education and their schooling then take advantage of the opportunities available to them. Unfortunately, some children end up living in this benefactor-beneficiary arrangement for a better part of their lives, especially because of the safety net provided by the parents when the children were young. Adam finds himself in such a predicament.

'ato fu'e umu (food basket)
"Le Bag" (lol!)
Not this "bag", but that one (basket).

Adam's bag scene (at the end) is part of the movie that hits home with me.

The scene takes me back to my Samoa College years.  There was a time when it was a trend and fad for some of us students - especially from the villages - to use ato fu'eumu (baskets woven from coconut fronds/leaves) to carry our school books.  Yes, as school bags.  There were no handles, unlike Adam’s bag, we just hand-carry them. The reason for the trend was partly faddish, but it was also a motivation and reminder, for me at least, that if parents could not afford a regular palagi school bag - or the more modern so-called "good" things in life for that matter - then that's the reason I was in school.  I remember that as the basket gets old, dry and frayed, I’d weave a new one; something I’m really good and fast at. (Yep, call me a real island guy... ha!)  Some years ago, I told Dearie about this time of my student life at Samco when I had a ‘ato fu’e umu as a school bag, and so when Adam was shown with his “island bag”, I leaned over and asked Dearie if she remembers my ‘ato fu’e umu anecdote, and she said yes...lol!

I do really like the movie. I saw it twice in two consecutive days.  At least in terms of technical and artistic elements, “Three Wise Cousins” has definitely broken ranks with the mostly run-of-the-mill Samoan movies of today.  It’s on the big screen, therefore it's hit big time! So congrats to all involved.

... with Mose, Tavita and Adam (kama Ierusalema  kama ia (re: their Bible names), ae filo ai ma le hamo ...lol!!!)

moviemakers and moviegoers 

more moviegoers/families of one of the cast members

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