Film Review: Cousins (2021)

STUDIO: ARRAY Releasing | DIRECTOR: Ainsley Gardiner, Briar Grace-Smith | CAST: Briar Grace-Smith, Rachel House, Tanea Heke
SPECS: NR | 98 min. | Drama

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 

From New Zealand’s award-winning Māori filmmaking duo Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith (Waru) comes Cousins, a tender story that entwines the different journeys of three Māori cousins across decades of their lives.

After spending a wonderful summer together, Mata, Missy and Makareta grown up to lead very separate lives. Mata’s Māori mother has passed away and, due to an arcane and discriminatory law, Mata (Tanea Heke, Eagle vs Shark) is unable to stay with her loving relatives and is placed in an orphanage by her white father to live out a lonely childhood in fear and bewilderment. Back home in New Zealand, driven and educated Makareta (Grace-Smith) flees an arranged marriage to study law while beginning to search for her missing cousin. Dutiful Missy (Rachel House, Penguin Bloom) takes Makareta’s place and becomes the guardian of their ancestral land. As the years pass, the three cousins’ destinies finally collide in bittersweet fashion.

In lesser hands, Cousins could have been an unwieldly mess, but Gardiner and Grace-Smith – who also adapted the screenplay from her mother’s 1992 novel of the same name – do a great job in balancing all three stories while tying together the narrative threads of powerful family bonds and identity. As the film expertly crisscrosses through passing decades of the cousins’ lives, it conveys the distinct struggles of each—including racism, misogyny and classism—offering delicate insight into paths as contemporary indigenous women. This may not have worked as well if not for the formidable actresses who play the younger versions of Mata, Missy and Makareta, so kudos to casting director Tina Cleary (Wellington Paranormal).

Crafted by and starring numerous Māori artists, Cousins is a strong import that can be appreciated by everyone.

Watch Cousins

About Janine

Janine is a dedicated fan of the 1940 film Kitty Foyle, directed by Sam Wood, written by Dalton Trumbo and starring Ginger Rogers, who won an Oscar for her portrayal. And seeing that film is all it took to make her a lifelong movie lover. Janine is excited to add her insights to the great team at