In the midst of the 1990s, 5 girls and a boy become good friends in high school and make some kind of gang. Hanging out, dancing around, fighting another girl gang, these friends always take care of each other. But then, life happens and pulls them apart. A few decades later, one of the girls is dying in a hospital and her final wish is to meet her high school BFFs. That, basically, is the synopsis of Riri Riza’s Bebas, a quite faithful adaptation of South Korea’s 2011 hit, Sunny.
Riza (Ada Apa dengan Cinta? 2, Petualangan Sherina), transliterating the source material, with Gina S. Noer (Dua Garis Biru) make significant changes to the narrative elements, but not the plot. Transferring the original Seoul of the 1980s setting—where everybody’s dancing to Cindy Lauper’s hits—to the dogged days of Jakarta in the 1990s during the twilight of Indonesia’s New Order regime enables the remake to follow the original plot faithfully, except for some cultural and social adjustment. While Sunny often features Western-inspired paraphernalia of the era, Bebas is more like a localized nostalgia, where the fashion, the songs, and other elements representing what had been hyped in the era, specifically, in Jakarta. Even, the remake title refers to a hit song during the era by an Indonesian rapper, Iwa K.
The funniest original elements that the remake retains, but adjusts, are the protagonist’s celebrity-inspired name. Vina Panduwinata (Maizura as the teenager; Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts‘ Marsha Timothy as the grown-up), named after a famous Indonesian singer from the previous decade, is a new student who just moved from a neighboring rural city. An encounter with Krisdayanti (Sheryl Sheinafia, as the younger version; Susan Bachtiar, as the older self), similarly named after another famous singer, also introduces her to the rest of the BFFs—Jessica (Agatha Pricilla & Indy Barends, respectively), Jojo (Baskara Mahendra & Baim Wong), Gina (Zulfa Maharani & Widi Mulia), and the primadonna, Suci (Lutesha). Together, they make the clique that will soon be called ‘Bebas’ (trans. free). “Just because our gang is called ‘Free’), that doesn’t mean that people are free to make fun of us,” said Krisdayanti, somehow, reflecting the clique’s credo which they hold dear when they’re together even until adulthood strikes.
Same as the source material, the narrative moves alternately between the present timeline and the 1990s timeline. To call the remake a verbatim adaptation might be an understatement, even if it’s not necessarily wrong. While Bebas presents an exhilarating reunion and all the fun in its own way, it also finds its path to make it a special remake. Omitting two gang members from the original movie and adding a male member might be the boldest move. Not only does it provides a slightly different angle, but it also brings a subtle message about challenging toxic patriarchal views. Krisdayanti and co initially accepted Jojo as a member because he was bullied for his soft, coquettish nature, which people judge of being ‘not man enough.’ In contrary to the society, the girl gang takes care of him and lets him be what he wants to be.
Aside from such a stance, Bebas brings audiences to a heartfelt reunion. Juxtaposing events in the present time with some moments in the past which influence some of the characters’ choices and conditions in the present. Even more carefully, Riza and Noer’s script puts some subtexts to the impact of the disastrous 1998 crisis and the birth of Indonesia’s Reformation era. That makes Bebas a little too cramped at some points; however, it manages to deliver its fun yet touching story.
To enhance the nostalgia moments, Bebas curates uplifting songs of the era, combining popular hits with some underrated numbers. The songs blend pretty well with the performance of the excellent ensemble of casts, combining experienced actors with promising young ones. Marsha Timothy and Maizura effectively lead the casts; while Baim Wong and Indy Barends alternately steal the spotlight. However, the real MVPs are Sheryl Sheinafia and Susan Bachtiar, who keep the fire burning with the confidence in portraying their character in two different states.
Overall, Bebas follows the spirit of Sunny faithfully and yet transfers the story so proficiently that it lands with its own signature. It’s a nostalgia worth celebrating.