Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens is the epitome of “home is wherever your heart is.” A light, heartwarming movie, which enlightens us with the other side of New York City.
This review of the Netflix film Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens does not contain spoilers.
“Grew up in a town that is famous as a place of movie scenes. Noise is always loud, there are sirens all around and the streets are mean. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere, that’s what they say.” — “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z.
Let’s talk about New York. What is one thing that pops up in your mind when you hear the word “New York City”? Mine would be Broadway! From Frank Sinatra to Alicia Keys; the Statue of Liberty to its Empire State Building that stands as high as it is ambitious; Manhattan to the shining and shimmering Times Square. New York is the synonym of a concrete jungle where dreams are made of. Those are the narratives; I fantasized about “The Big Apple” as a kid who grew up in Southern East Asia. But have you heard the stories of an immigrant who lives there? Me neither.
Growing up as a child with an immigrant mother who flew herself to the US to chase her dream, I always end up wondering what’s life behind the curtain? What’s so grand about that city that makes everyone thirst over it? All the wishful stories of immigrants who dare themselves to fly but never face the reality they live in and don’t come back.
Is it as flashy and dazzling as it appears to be? Have they ever felt the longingness to come back to their country? Well, I’m glad that I’m not the only one.
Directed by Lucky Kuswandi, famously known for Galih & Ratna (2018), Ali & The Ratu Ratu Queens is another heartwarming movie written by Gina S Noer (alongside Muhammad Zaidy), who is famously acclaimed for her works Habibie & Ainun (2012), Dua Garis Biru (2019), and Bebas (2019). It is a story of determination, a journey of finding oneself, a heartwarming friendship, and self-acceptance.
The movie unravels the story of Ali (Iqbal Ramadhan), a 17-year-old young boy who braces himself on a one-way adventure to New York City to find his beloved mother. The story revolves around Ali and the group of Indonesian immigrant women, Ratu Ratu, at Queens. (“Ratu” means “queen” in Indonesian).
It starts with Ali recording his hopeful self-narrative speech on his animation video, which he made for his mother, followed by the flashback of their separation. After his father’s passing, Ali found piles of letters and an expired plane ticket booked under his name and his late father to New York from his mother, Mia (Marissa Anita), who left to pursue her dream as a singer. Driven by the longing of his mother, Ali juggles his fate of the unknown to a journey to The Big Apple with the help of his cousin, Zoopunk (Bayu Skak), and the never-ending anxiety of her religious and conservative aunt (Cut Mini Theo).
For someone who grew up in a conservative community whose social norm roots deeply within religions and ideology, New York and everything it offers might be considered a threat, especially for the older folks. But here, we love the determination that Ali presents. At some point in our life, we all need that courage.
Walking on vagabond shoes with only her mother’s long overdue information as a guide, his fate has brought him to Queens of Queen’s nest where he meets Party (Nirina Zubir), a hardworking, warm, and delightful woman who works providing home cleaning and eldercare. Ance (Tika Panggabean) is a rational, single mother programmer with an overprotective nature to her one and only daughter — Eva (Aurora Ribero) — a full of life and a spirited young girl who formed a sweet friendship with Ali despite the shattered reality and broken dreams.
Of course, in every group, we need a dreamy character to make things more exciting. Happy Salma delivers an alluring performance as Chinta — an intuitive masseur who unfortunately fell in love with the wrong guys. Lastly, a mood maker who never plays it safe to spice things up; Biyam (Asri Welas), a Bonek (an Indonesian football team PERSIBAYA’s supporter) who juggles her life as the paparazzi after being defrauded by her Indonesian’s labor agency. This group of independent women gradually become the core supporter and influence of Ali’s character development; they broaden his perspective and values.
The enthralling aspect is the film tries to bring the other side of New York and a glimpse of the lives of immigrants, from Asians to the Middle East and black communities. From the crowded subway, the apartment complex, the street food, thrift shopping, social obligation, also the longing of immigrants who stuck through the lives of Ratu Ratu. Not to forget the message of women empowerment, especially within the marginalized community. I wish for more background story that captivates Ratu Ratu. But we get that the story is centered around Ali, and everyone is gravitating towards him.
Rather than the relationship between Ali and his mother, the pivot of the movie lies in Ali’s journey of finding closure and self-acceptance. The plot itself is light, not overly dramatic, and realistic enough for the audience to empathize. There’s no room for unanswered questions. “Home is where your heart is” is engraved deeply throughout the movie. What holds this film together is the atmosphere between the cast, especially the Ratu Ratu. Everything feels genuine. The cast effortlessly delivers witty, agonizing, philosophical dialogues and makes everything enjoyable throughout the movie. The arousing conflict between Ali and Mia could have been made more intense, but it is equitable enough to make you feel for them.
One thing I need to point out is the clever cinematography that adds more variety to the show. The mixture between the stop motion animation made by Ali and the series of filmography, which captures the diversity of New York; from the flashy Time Squares to the hybrid underground life to the serenity of Manhattan’s bay creates a fun cinematic experience for the audience. Also, the selection of music is catchy enough to please the ears and helps to build the atmosphere of the scenes.
Overall it is a good movie to pass the time. If you need a light, heartwarming, and feel-good film to spend time with your family or loved ones, then Netflix’s Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens is something you would love to look forward to.