BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
I witnessed Tope Tedela for the first time in the 2015 movie Out Of Luck and I remember vividly how I thought he had just one expression throughout the movie. From then till now, Tope Tedela has taken on different other characters, from the effeminate Kye Stevens Adedoyin in Suru L’ere to the love-struck wounded soldier in A Soldier’s Story, the cowardly baby daddy in Slow Country or the undercover officer in Ojukokoro. It is commendable that he keeps exploring all these different roles, and becoming a more rounded actor by them. So seeing him play the lead in The Happyness Limited as Gregory, a man deformed by a fire accident was one of the many times I said “Tope Tope!” in pretend familiarity, like we were old classmates reconnecting after many years.
Gregory didn’t just lose half of his face in the fire disaster. He lost his wife, his job, and has nearly lost his daughter who lives with his mother and requires surgery to heal. He moves to a poor neighborhood and tries to get a job but is constantly being denied because of his looks. He resorts to shoemaking (for no reason in particular), but even that isn’t helping as customers do not show up. Then he meets Tajudeen and his thieving gang, and they make him show up for an operation which he ditches still, and attempts to kill himself.
Gregory chances on little Mandu, whose mother, Agnes, is a prostitute. They develop a friendship, and Mandu promises to help him repair his face when she becomes a doctor in future (and this is one worn out line I really hope screenwriters stop using). He manages to get a job as a mascot with Unom, and he falls in love with Agnes.
The Happyness Limited story starts out strong. Not many filmmakers have stories themed around the physically challenged in society. When Greg attends job interviews and gets rejected, you feel his pain. You feel sorry for him when the baby in the bus keeps wailing at the sight of him. You feel worse when he cannot even contribute to the power-fixing fee. All of this is real and painful, and you recognize the struggles he faces.
You immediately judge Agnes as a horrible mother, which she is since her daughter can just sleep off in a man’s house and the only question she dims fit to ask is “You fuck my pikin?” On and on the story goes, till it begins to fall apart at the mechanic shop. Tajudeen’s gang members are a tad unrealistic, the final interview seems like a philosophy class, and the attempted suicide seems irrelevant. The thoughts behind the movie become incoherent from here up until the end. We are unsure what has befallen Agnes when she gets attacked, we are unsure of the arrangement of the scenes, from the attack to the proposal, then to the defense, then park, defense then park…it is a struggle to keep up. When the movie ends, it leaves you with an ache in your belly at how a good story has gone to waste. A few more rewrites and this story could have been magic.
Tope Tedela does as much as he can with one-half of his face covered. Mandu is played by a remarkable Mariam Kayode and Agnes by Kiki Omeili who immediately reminds you of her similar role in Gbomogbomo Express. Gregory Ojefua plays Unom and infuses some comedy. Kingsley Nwachukwu plays Tajudeen, Seun Kentebe plays an interviewer.
One thing the writer, producer and director, Imoh Umoren does well with this film is project a Lagos we can identify with. With about three danfo scenes, the NEPA incident, the market, the scenery, Imoh doesn’t try to coat Lagos with a fancy paint. The subtitling is also excellent, and the actors do a great job with the script. The colourful animations and quotes from time to time also give the movie some beauty and depth, to elevate its all-round solemnness.
The Happyness Limited is low budget and many characters are not shown, giving them no real purpose. One is Greg’s daughter, and the other is his mother. When he tells Agnes he would like to take care of her, you snigger at how much the man hasn’t even been able to take care of his own family or even himself. What would become of the dying girl? The movie leaves us asking questions and peering into its big holes. The church scene is unnecessary, and so is the armed robbery/running scene. They neither help the story nor move it forward. The editing is poorly done, and the sound is inconsistent.
The Happyness Limited leaves you disappointed in the end. It has such great prospects, but they are not seen through.