Kambili Review: Love is Work in Lagos

There is a subtle shift of modern Nollywood romantic comedy from family to work. Well, maybe it’s not a shift but an expansion.

For many years the most important thing in the life of a heroine was the family: her mother urging her to get married, her potential in-law hassling her about the quality of her wife material.

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By contrast, Kambili (she’s also a title character) arrives at work late, her house is in disarray, and she hasn’t met a designer shoe she didn’t immediately buy. To top it off, her rent is late. You can imagine films from a different time and climate setting these up as quirks that might make some straitlaced guy love her. Not in this economy.

In a matter of scenes, she’s tossed out of a relationship by her boyfriend John (Mawuli Gavor). His reason is that she isn’t, to use fancy jargon, self-optimising. He’s the romantic equivalent of a coach that comes to see that his athlete will never be elite and isn’t the type to tolerate slackers. Out she goes. To get back into the game, she realizes that she needs to become pro-capitalism.

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As I hope that abbreviated synopsis hopefully makes clear, Kambili is a typical romcom colourfully told. It is well-handled by director Kayode Kasum, who seems particularly taken in by comic stories. In a career that has seen one unfortunate picture, Dognapped, and Sugar Rush, an otherwise decent comedy ruined by its last quarter of an hour, Kambili is a highlight.

Filmed bright and light by Adeoluwa Owu and Emmanuel Igbekele, Kambili is fun and often funny, thanks to Ozioma Ogbaji’s worthy screenplay. The film aims for cool, non-abrasive humour and nails it.

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For her part, Isime is well-cast as the film’s lead. I have seen movies dealing in romance where you struggle to understand the attraction to a female character by several male characters — but that’s not remotely the case here. The way the camera captures Isime’s face and the way she moves ensures that the viewer sees her in the exact way the characters see Kambili: whatever her flaws, none of it is connected to her physicality.

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As with a bunch of comedy films released (and to be released) this season, the viewer is likely to guess what would become the film’s final configuration of lovers and would-be lovers. After all, filmmaking has guidelines for romantic comedies. But suspense isn’t the most prized features of romcoms of this sort, so you are unlikely to feel deflated even if you predict it correctly. What you might feel is a certain kind of joy at a group of actors hitting the right crowd-pleasing notes.

Grade: B+

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