BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
In this season of love, it is only fitting that we treat ourselves to on-screen romantic goodness. It is why there is a Fifty Shades franchise that materializes only around Valentine’s, and why The Royal Hibiscus Hotel from the stables of EbonyLife Films is the film of the hour. A simple romantic drama, the strategically positioned film tells a love story and just that.
Opeoluwa Adeniyi is a chef. This is, and has always been the dream. However, living in London and pursuing her dream of creating an Afro-fusion restaurant of African cuisines isn’t going as well as she foresaw it, and so she decides to return home to Nigeria, much to her parents delight, to resume as the head chef in their family hotel and see how this reflects on her dream board. But it would seem like there is trouble in paradise, as her father, losing his grasp on the overall management of the hotel, decides to sell it for a surprisingly fantastic price. Martin, the buyer, invites his friend and investor, Deji, from London to lodge in the hotel for a week, giving Mr. Adeniyi the chance to get all the signatures he needs to finalise the sale of the hotel.
Deji meets Ope, and in the middle of the chaos of sabotages and tension, finds her amazing and falls for her. She, thinking he is just a mere guest, reciprocates the love and attention, until true identities are revealed, true intentions are doubted, and the beautiful budding love story falls apart. But trusting love to always find a way, the Ope-Deji love defies the obstacles.
This is the story of every Harlequin or Heartsong novel there is, and nearly every fairytale; love finding a way, even in death. And while The Royal Hibiscus hotel story falls into this expected cliché, its simplicity may be its greatest strength. It tries its hands around some humor and wins, but the main plot is as simple as it gets, man meets woman, obstacles arise, love conquers.
Zainab Balogun and Kenneth Okolie are a very unlikely pair as lead. An OC Ukeje, who also features as Felix, the friend with unrequited love, may have fit better, and shows this by sharing great chemistry with Ope in the two scenes he appears in. But Kenneth plays Deji, and this might be a good move for Nollywood, veering off the casting overkill and giving us an unexpected treat almost as good. Almost, because we do not shiver from the eventual chemistry, or remember it much after.
Deyemi Okanlawon plays the bad boy yet again, and it is phenomenal how this suits him so well. Real-life couple Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva make cameos as couple and friends to the Adeniyis. Jide Kosoko and Rachael Oniga play the Adeniyis, Ope’s exuberant love-struck parents. Here and there, they force out painful humor, but they pull their roles off still. Kemi Lala plays Chika, the receptionist who would rather chew gum, file her nails and drool over good-looking guests, than do the job she is paid for. Toni Tones plays Esther, Ope’s childhood friend and confidant. Ini Dinma Okojie plays hotel guest and music star. Charles Inojie and Akah Nnani play cooks and give us the most laughs, spicing up what would have otherwise been a tiring run.
The Royal Hibiscus Hotel experiences an uncertain pacing. It is quick in London and for the first few scenes in Nigeria, then the process seems to experience Lagos traffic and drags and drags, picks up speed at a point and rushes us through the rest of the film, leaving us wondering where the film is jetting off to in such a mad hurry. This is probably why we do not feel Ope’s love for Deji as deeply as we should. We know it developed in only a space of days, fell flat within that time too and we were incapable of going through that journey in such a small time. This pacing also tells on the characters. The supporting characters are given too little to work with. We meet them and lose them in the same breath, and can barely find a real connection to anyone of them. We also are unsure of the location of the hotel. It looks and feels like Lagos, and especially because of that exquisite dinner date at the Eko Hotel, until Ope says, in supposed Lagos, that she would be moving to Lagos.
There arises the question of love as sacrifice, as attraction, as giggles under the influence or as common interests. The Royal Hibiscus hotel leaves the viewer to define what love is to them while offering us simplicity wrapped in bright colours. Directed by Ishaya Bako of Road to Yesterday, the movie enjoys interesting shots that give a lavish feeling. Props should be given for the hotel itself which looks the part, down to its fading colours and old structure. The film is written by Ishaya Bako, Yinka Ogun, Nicole Brown and Debo Oluwatuminu.
The Royal Hibiscus Hotel is fleeting. It is feel-good, snatches a couple of ‘aww’s, but doesn’t stay with you. You would very likely leave the cinemas wishing there was more.