Movie Review: New Material

New Material is the long-awaited sequel to Material, a local comedy drama gem that established Riaad Moosa as a doctor, comedian and actor. Loosely based on his life story, biographical elements filter into the plot as the son of a material shop owner in Fordsburg tries to keep his secret life’s ambition to be a stand up comedian from his father, who expects him to take over the family business. Hinging on familial responsibility and cutting the proverbial apron strings, this funny, touching and quietly powerful comedy drama unearthed timeless themes, immersing us in a Muslim family’s culture and inner workings against the backdrop of stand up comedy.

New Material picks up the story several years after the events of Material. Cassim is starting to gain traction as a comedian, his father Ebrahim is experiencing echoes of nostalgia from a bygone era, a lonely Zulfa is struggling to manage the household with her husband’s rigorous touring schedule and Cassim’s bromance is flourishing with Yusuf. Taking the emotional core and father-son dynamic of Material, the sequel branches out to explore several avenues of Cassim’s life through various relationships. While each of these strands could have been central to their own film, New Material opts to bundle them together.

Owing to the success and chemistry of the original film, almost every main character returns for New Material. It simply wouldn’t be possible without Riaad Moosa and Vincent Ebrahim, who both won SAFTAs for their first outing as Cassim and Ebrahim, testament to what must surely be career best performances. Slightly older and wiser, Moosa’s natural charm and seemingly effortless performance in the original is transposed into New Material, while Ebrahim offers a more contemplative and controlled follow-up to his indomitable and stern performance as Ebrahim. Complementing this award-winning duo and reprising their roles are Joey Rasdien, Carishma Basday, Zakeeya Patel and Denise Newman as Fatima.

Rasdien has much more screen time, channeling zip and energy into Cassim’s doting best buddy, Yusuf. In trying to house so many subplots and a sprawling cast in the space of 95 minutes, Basday, Patel and Newman’s small but substantial contributions do get a little lost yet remain a welcome counterpoint in capturing tones of home. When it comes to new additions, Schalk Bezuidenhout puts the kick in sidekick as a calmer derivative of himself, realising his value as a back seat driver and third Amigo. While he wields some great laughs in leveraging his star power, he could have had more character to chew on. Then it’s fun to see Rajesh Gopie’s pure conviction as the shady Shabir, whose entertaining performance represents the destructive, soul-crushing meddling of an overbearing client.

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“I always try to look my best for speed cameras.”

When it comes to new material, the comedy ranges from Seinfeld opening credit bits, situational nuttiness to funny-not-funny dad jokes. The sequel allows the comedy to flow naturally and in accordance with the story without drawing too much attention to itself or trying to force matters by bringing out the giant hammer. This subtle approach is reinforced by wonderful cameos from some of South Africa’s freshest stand up talents… and Mark Banks. Playing small supporting characters, New Material is enriched by their presence as they too restrain themselves from redirecting a key light and grabbing the boom mic.

Starting on a lighthearted note, the sequel quickly gets the trio of buddies on a road trip so that Cassim can break out of playing to a niche audience and develop new fans around the country. Tipping the hat to the yellow VW Combi from Little Miss Sunshine, Cassim, Yusuf and their pal Hendrik hit the road with high hopes after securing a “friend of a cousin’s cousin” as a sponsor. Tracking with some biographical notes from Moosa’s career, New Material keeps one tyre on the road as the grand tour doesn’t quite meet expectations, family matters arise and sponsorship issues threaten to tear the all-for-one and one-for-all comedy team apart.

Material was a labour of love and as reflected by the movie title, this isn’t simply a ‘Material 2’. Co-writers Craig Freimond and Riaad Moosa care about their films just as much as their audiences, delivering an all-rounder comedy drama that elicits tears from uproarious laughter and deep emotional connection. The sequel starts off in a spirited way playing for lighthearted entertainment and teasing at possibilities as the road trip kicks off. The lightweight handling keeps comedy front and centre as stand up bits and funny situational moments play out with Riaad Moosa, Joey Rasdien and Schalk Bezuidenhout’s antics keeping spirits high as they navigate a shoestring comedy roadshow.

While constantly amusing, this lightness of touch keeps things fun and upbeat as ridiculous demands from a sponsor force the trio to make sacrifices for their career and reputation. Setting up an ethical dilemna that becomes an undercurrent, New Material’s dramatic subplots catch up as relationship troubles and the true sacrifice of selling out become apparent. Being a movie of two halves, New Material follows a similar emotional arc to Material, moving from the giddiness of funny to the turmoil of heartache as Cassim is forced to choose between his career and family. Gallivanting without a care in the world, the sequel charts the transition from boy to man as the crushing reality of life’s hidden adult responsibilities breach the surface. Touching on so many rich topics including beliefs, customs and resettlement, each of which could have been a focus, New Material gets better and better imitating fabric in weaving together many threads to create something durable and of substance.

new material 2021

“…to get to the other side. We know.”

A tapestry serves as an apt metaphor for the filmmaking process and experienced director, Craig Freimond, takes the best aspects of Material and helps create a sequel worthy of the same adulation. Building on what was achieved in the first film, it does pay to watch them in sequence, leaning on much of the story’s emotional payload to usher in the sequel’s heartrending third act. While the tentacles of New Material stretch out in all directions as Cassim walks through the shadow of Spider-Man 2, somehow the filmmakers are able to throw a Spidey web (or blanket) over everything and reel it in over the course of 95 minutes. Gravitating from laugh out loud moments to quiet weeping, New Material is one of those special movie experiences that’s best shared with friends and family.

New Material’s far-reaching themes, many subplots and sprawling cast do build to a substantial watershed that dexterously ties them together, moving from reckless abandon to some heavy truths. It’s an entertaining comedy drama, a fitting sequel and a fun road trip, yet its dislocated feel and perceived lack of focus on story and character lessens its impact value. While the closing is heartfelt, underpinned by the emotional core of Material, the sequel seems quite fleeting – offering a thoughtful undercover character portrait that’s distanced by the razzle of stand up show business and then shrouded in the guilt of family expectation and undertow of love.

Moving at such a quick pace, it mirrors much of what made Material great, offering a substantial sequel that’s both entertaining and endearing. The film nimbly navigates the plotting, keeping things light and funny enough to appeal to audiences and drives home with a burst of emotional power to a satisfying conclusion. It may be a movie of two halves but is so breezy and enjoyable that it will probably become just as much a staple as the original Material. While it’s been almost a decade since Material graced our screens, New Material will offer fans a welcome next chapter to Cassim Kaif’s growing pains in the shadow of his staunch father. Will they make it a trilogy? Let’s hope so.

The bottom line: Entertaining