Film Review: Material

material featured image

Material tells a universal story. Its trappings might be different, but at its heart it’s a familiar and love-worn tale: being torn between pleasing family and self. In this particular case, Cassim Kaif wants to expand his hobby of stand-up comedy, but his family, his father in particular, just wants him to settle down and run the family’s fabric shop.

material cassim and ebrahim

Cassim and Ebrahim.

That’s about all there is to Material’s plot.  There’s a side plot about Cassim’s father Ebrahim being estranged from his brother, but that wasn’t developed as well as it could have been. It served to put greater pressure in Cassim, but mostly ended up making Ebrahim seem even angrier and more unreasonable.  It’s like the story felt it needed a proper villain, so Ebrahim was clumsily shoved into that mold. That makes one strong moment in the movie – when Ebrahim catches part of Cassim’s stand up, making jokes at his family’s expense – feel jarring. I was ready to feel sorry for Ebrahim on the strength of that scene, but he immediately began acting so hateful again that I lost sympathy. Thus the film feels disjointed when he finally does come around.

Much of Material is sudden like that.  Individual scenes are fine, and the acting good. But sometimes scenes pass from one into another without transition. Maybe that’s an intentional style, but it’s one I’m never a fan of, and I can’t see what meaning it would add in this case. And maybe I’m just nitpicking, but the actress playing Cassim’s grandmother seemed like a younger woman in aging makeup, something that distracted me every time she was on screen.

Quibbles aside, Material is a likable movie. Its central message is relatable – haven’t we all, at some point, been afraid of letting our families down?  Haven’t we all hid things we love, or avoided conversations about certain topics with our parents, because we fear disappointing them?

Cassim's career gets a boost from local big-name comedian Dave Gold.

Cassim’s career gets a boost from local big-name comedian Dave Gold.

The trouble with the film is that it doesn’t do anything new with such a familiar story. Son wants to do X. Family doesn’t approve of X. At least one family member gets really mean and shouty about X, possibly about many life choices. Drama ensues, until angry family member relents. Fill in the X’s with specific details from Material and you basically have the movie. It’s not that anything in the film was done poorly – well, maybe the casting/aging makeup if the grandmother is really played by a younger actress – but little stands out, either.

However, Material has its merits, and the ones it has are weighty. Its story might be so familiar that the wear’s starting to show, but it has a setting we don’t often see in films: an Indian community in South Africa. And I really liked the bits of Cassim’s standup; I wouldn’t be surprised if it was lifted from actor Riaad Moosa’s own routines.

But what I took out of the film isn’t the most important point. Material showcases voices we rarely hear or see. The reason a story like this one gets told over and over again is because it’s so human. It might showcase a struggle that strikes a chord with someone unused to seeing stories or voices or faces like theirs on the screen, and that makes the film absolutely worthwhile. Others might get so much more from Material than me, and even if the most I take out of the film is the discovery of a new standup comedian from whom I’d like to hear more, then it was a 90 minutes well spent.


You can purchase “Material” on iTunes.