It’s about two months since the release of ‘The Wedding Party 2’ (TWP2). Two months since the miss by the ELFIKE collective (in my opinion sha). Two months since the film’s release ensured that ‘TWP2’ and its predecessor, ‘The Wedding Party’ became the Avatar and Titanic of Nigerian Cinema, box office-wise.
Despite the financial success of TWP2, Ebonylife films (EL films) does not seem to be resting on its oars or taking a break. In fact, after successfully plugging into the Christmas Holiday for box office success two years in a row, EL films is taking the next step and plugging into Valentine’s.
While it is obvious that there’s good strategic thinking in the EL films corner, the question becomes, ‘Have they finally made a film I can boldly say I adore?’ Or is this just another big flashy film that fails to hit the mark?
Directed by Ishaya Bako, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel narrates the story of Ope, an upper middle class chef, who moves back to Nigeria after enduring some of the frustrations of an African trying to fulfil big dreams in diaspora. She returns with great aspirations for her family hotel, though she appears somewhat uncommitted to the task at hand. Unknown to her, the family is struggling to make ends meet with the operations of their grand hotel, and her father is concluding plans to sell the hotel to some young investors.
To sum it up, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel is a contemporary Nigerian romantic comedy told on the beautiful landscape of an upper middle class family, and laced with doses of love, betrayal, humour and rich people’s problems.
The film benefits from the great architectural landscape and design of its major set, acting performances that do a capable job of translating characters, and good music. It’s always cool to see an aspect of the beauty of Lagos or Nigeria on screen which may otherwise be overlooked by the average Nigerian in the hustle and bustle to survive Nigeria’s hardships. Also, the set design reminded me of the architecture of King’s College’s main campus on Lagos Island bringing back really cool memories.
Zainab Balogun is a well suited lead as Ope. There’s something quite natural about her portrayal that allows the story flow well. There’s also really good chemistry between her and her male co-stars Kenneth OKolie and OC Ukeje, making my seat partner wonder if she and Kenneth were really good friends in real life. I’ve seen Kenneth in a few films before now and I think he’s an OK actor. I remember wondering why Tiwa made a mess of her relationship with him in Skinny Girl in Transit, but I digress. Anyways, in Royal Hibiscus Hotel, he is there to look good and say very few things, but he sort of works just like that.
Most of the other characters range from annoying (Toni Tones comes to mind here), mildly irritating (my fingers point to Rachel Oniga and the Cook), forgettable (Akah Nnani), befitting (Jide Kosoko and Deyemi Okanlawon), to hilarious (Bucci Franklin – who almost had no lines and Lala Akindoju – who was just a hoot). As a whole, the cast worked, but I could have done without Toni.
While the above good points ensured that the Royal Hibiscus Hotel was a better watch than TWP2, there was a big flaw in the story department. The thing about dissecting stories in reviews is that one may end up releasing spoilers. So all I will say is that while the story was promising and ended up satisfying the feel good nature of the film, there were too many elements that screamed ugh, c’mon!! Let’s not even talk about that ending!
But do I expect a well layered story with EL films? Well maybe not, as I think the closest they have come to a well told story in their entire catalogue is ‘Fifty’.
Nonetheless, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, is a nice offering from EL films. It ticks boxes that make it a reasonable offering in the Rom Com Genre. It definitely does a better job as a film than TWP2, but can I consider it a memorable Nigerian film that everyone should rush to watch?
Nah! It’s a good watch no doubt and fits the Valentine season, especially for a cinema date. But the ultimate question remains, ‘Will it be able to fight off the storm that is Black Panther set to hit cinemas in a few days?’ I guess we’ll wait to see if EL films bombards our social media timelines with tales of records broken or huge sales.