An emotionally invested enthusiast of pop culture in the guise of a Copywriter. Apathetic by design. Aesthetically offensive and eloquently candid. A sentimental heathen.

Comedy, in my personal opinion, is one of the hardest genre to nail. My preferences made watching most Indonesian comedy a chore. Forget about making me smile. More than often, their jokes were downright offensive and derogatory (like that “coming out” joke in Comic 8: Casino Kings), or could even count as sexual harassment (like that infamous Kemal stint from earlier this year). It’s painfully hard to find an Indonesian comedian whose sense of humor aligned with mine, and even harder to find one who could actually write. Ernest Prakasa, however, scored my approval on both points. And Cek Toko Sebelah proved that he is a force to be reckoned with.

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A minor stroke attack prompted Koh Afuk (Chew Kin Wah) to consider retirement and hand over his store to one of his son. But when he asked the successful and career oriented Erwin (Ernest Prakasa) to be his successor, he effectively offended his estranged older son Yohan (Dion Wiyoko). And so an even deeper rift was formed in the already fragmented family, dragging even each son’s respective partner Natalie (Gisella Anastasia) and Ayu (Adinia Wirasti).

 

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Theoretically, everyone can write and be a writer. But not everyone can be a story teller, even more so a good one. You’d have to be able to ensnare your audience, and walk the thin line between bland exposition and over dramatization. Most people often fell prey to the latter. It’s easy to create laugh with over-the-top slapstick, or goad tears with tales of terrible misfortune. What’s hard, is to do both without needless hogwash. And Cek Toko Sebelah managed that feat in a seemingly effortless manner, presenting a wholesome drama comedy with proportional ratio on, well, almost everything.

Ernest, with the help of Jenny Jusuf, penned a robust tale of sibling rivalry and the long winding road to mend a fragmented family. He captured each side’s layered problems, and delivered them in a way that got me feeling sympathetic for everyone. In a way, I think this story was a perfect example of how a hero in one’s story is a villain in another’s. Unwittingly, they became the antagonist in each other’s life. And this was a story of how they overcame that ironic situation, how they faced their own demons and rediscovered what matters most in their life. Yet, Cek Toko Sebelah never strayed too far from comedy. It transitioned smoothly between refreshing entertainment and touching family drama. I could went from crying tears of joy to gross sobbing in a matter of scenes. But never once I experienced whiplash, because the emotional shift was smoother than Adinia Wirasti’s flawless skin.

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Admittedly, Ernest lucked out with his cast ensemble. Almost all of the main casts gave added depth to their character. Chew Kin Wah was stellar as Koh Afuk. He was both a long-suffering father and a proud one, a steely store owner with some soft sides who actually like to jokes around, and he could said a lot without actually talk. More than once, he broke my heart simply with his expression and dejected look. He’s just a human, after all. And though he wants nothing more than to see his sons happy, he still have his ego and pride. A selfish hope that his favorite son will continue his legacy. All of those conflicting emotions he conveyed without words. Though Dion Wiyoko could surprisingly gave him a run for his money in that department. To date, this was Dion Woyoko’s best performance. His emotional range was impressive. He could held a meaningful dialogue with Liliana’s tombstone, and he successfully turned a blatant exposition into a touching confession. His character was every firstborn’s worst nightmare: a disappointment who couldn’t live up to their parent’s expectation. Still, despite the blatant favoritism, he stayed his ego. Because all he wanted was just to make his dad happy. And through every sad gaze, through each heartrending interaction with Koh Afuk, Dion Wiyoko took us in Yohan’s journey in self-reconciliation. Healing each scars to finally be whole once again. He truly brought Yohan to life. Either that, or there’s a group of ninjas in the theater who started cutting onion every time he showed up on screen. Like, Dion Wiyoko was so good, being paired with Adinia Wirasti only helped him shine even more. And this is Adinia Wirasti we’re talking about. She was simply lovable as Ayu. Despite her rather small portion of lines, she didn’t feel underused. Because her presence and expressions alone were enough to amplified the emotions in her scenes. She was Yohan’s pillar, a shoulder to rely on, a partner in sadness and in happiness. I’d kill for a partner like that, really.

On the other hand, their stellar performances means Ernest’s pales in comparison. He was great, don’t get me wrong. But there were times when Erwin got relegated to the background while Yohan and Koh Afuk took the center stage. Still, Ernest had grown a lot in terms of acting. He was the best in comedic scenes and his gag never fell flat. His drama scenes were also far less cringe-worthy than in Ngenest, even when he’s facing up against Gisella. Whom was the weakest link in this whole movie. She was bland and often unconvincing, though I suppose it can’t be helped since Natalie is the shallowest character. But hey, at least she made Ernest looked really good. Other supporting casts held their own better than her, though. Despite the abundance of supporting characters, I could still recall their scenes and had something to remember them by. Even Dodit Mulyanto was funny and endearing. Though the honor of being the scene stealer still fell to Asri Welas. Each and every one of her scenes were captivating, her bits got me laughing breathless, and I still got “Harta yang paling berharga” stuck on my head thanks to her.

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Of course, Cek Toko Sebelah wasn’t perfect. The sheer amount of characters involved meant Ernest must divided the limited screen time, so they weren’t as nuanced as I’d like them to be. This was painfully apparent in the case of Erwin and Natalie. Focusing on family drama also affected the whole “competing small stores” premise. The rivalry between Koh Afuk and Pak Nandar was underexposed, diminished into plot device for all kinds of gag. Being drama-centric also meant Cek Toko Sebelah was less thought provoking than Ngenest. And while I appreciate the message against sexual harassment, it was a bit preachy and a little out of place. Plus, I got a personal vendetta against the sound editing. It’s not that bad, but scenes in public places always grated my nerves. Always. Still, there was no fatal shortcoming and I’m pretty sure Ernest will be able to overcome them in due time.

I’m officially going on the record to say that Cek Toko Sebelah is my favorite Indonesian movie of the year. It proved my long standing belief that you don’t need exaggeration to be hilarious and tear-jerking. When you have enough wit and charm, clever subtlety and brilliant timing would captivate your audience and toy with their heartstrings. Of course, it also help to have a group of wonderful casts who brought your characters to life, and great soundtrack to enhance the mood. Plus a heck load of memorable scene stealers and painstaking attention to details – those brand names are to die for. Mesmerizing and wholesome, Cek Toko Sebelah is a marvelous cinematic growth from Ernest Prakasa that cannot be missed. After all, he is one hell of a story teller. Be it in drama, or in comedy.

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Director: Ernest Prakasa. Writer: Ernest Prakasa. Released on: 28 December 2016. Casts: Ernest Prakasa, Chew Kin Wah, Dion Wiyoko, Adinia Wirasti, Gisella Anastasia.

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