BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
Diana Yekini is Banke Adewunmi, a Nigerian graduate undergoing her Youth service in an unnamed state in 2015 film, Lunchtime Heroes. She shares a flat with two other ladies (played by Ijeoma Aniebo and Odenike Odetola), and three guys (played by Tope Tedela, Buchi Franklin and Uzo Arukwe) who are all Corps members. She feels very lucky to have been accepted as a teacher in Excelsior College, a private school with good pay and high standards, and because she loves to cook, she prepares a celebratory dinner for her housemates as she makes the announcement.
The introduction draws you in; no over flogged storyline: check! Believable ‘corpers lodge’ chemistry: check! No over-age actor trying hard to fit into khakis: check! Oh, and Diana Yekini: Check! Check! Check! I told you this girl was capable of more than just ashewo and bad geh roles. Diana dazzles.
So Banke resumes to her primary place of assignment and is disappointed that it isn’t as welcoming as she had hoped. The principal, Mrs. Williams (Dakore Egbuson) is stern and dismissive, and the rest of the staff isn’t much better. There’s a Mr. Ishola (Kenneth Okolie) who is the sports master, conceited and utterly full of himself. There’s another Miss Uche (Ade Laoye) who is a huge snob. In time, Banke’s enthusiasm begins to wane.
An interschool academic sports and skills competition is announced, and since Banke is considered irrelevant in the general scheme of things, she is placed with the students who aren’t participating in the competition, a babysitter in a guise of a Social Studies teacher. She is excited at the opportunity, but not for long as the children turn out rude and bored and pay no mind to her. In frustration, she calls her mum (Tina Mba) and plans kick off immediately for her redeployment to another state.
When the children realize she cooks and bakes, they decide to put her to a test which she passes and then they implore her to teach them. In time, seven of them become great at cooking, and few days to the competition, the drama team disappoints and the cooking crew is placed to fill the role so the school would not be disqualified. Banke bonds with the kids over cooking, and connects with them on an individual level, making them love her and believe in her leadership. They are devastated when, few minutes to the competition, they discover her redeployment letter, but when she assures them she is going nowhere and tears the letter before their faces, they are excited and motivated enough to clinch the first prize for their school in the competition.
Lunchtime Heroes has many acting high points, owing to the quality of its stars. The child stars also render true-to-life performances that make the movie a delight. For many who have undergone the compulsory Nigerian service year for graduates, this movie is relatable in many different ways, ranging from the search for a suitable PPA to the treatment of corps members in these places, to frustrations that lead to redeployment and roommates that cheer you on. The research into the dynamics of a typical NYSC experience is praise-worthy. There are also moments that get you cackling like a hen with chicks; especially performances by Mr. Goke, the vice principal (Wale Macaulay) and Chris, one of Banke’s housemates.
Directed and co-written by Seyi Babatope, Lunchtime Heroes is breezy, fun, funny and fresh. The acting isn’t all perfect, but a fine attempt is made. The production quality is satisfactory, the picture quality top-notch, the soundtrack just brilliant and the lines impressive; the high school cast, particularly, sound smart and opinionated, a rarity in many Nollywood movies. Following the lines of teacher-student movies with notorious students and a teacher who changes them (Lean on Me, Freedom Writers as classic foreign examples and Cindy’s Note as a Nollywood example), Seyi Babatope brings a wholesome perspective with Lunchtime Heroes, a perspective that is entertaining to watch and not easy to forget.