Watching New Nollywood films could be exciting, but excruciating too; there’s the lingering hope that things are getting better technically, but erected glumly like a scarecrow on the flipside is the disappointment that the new generation still haven’t mastered the rudimentary art of storytelling.
Doug Coupland, famous Canadian novelist once compared storytelling to a creative act of pattern recognition; through characters, plot and setting, a writer creates places where previously invisible truths become visible. But sometimes, a writer never manages to create places where this invisible truths become visible,
Up North , like many New Nollywood films is well made on a technical level. Also, it is particularly refreshing to see films explore new worlds, but the story feels written with the aid of an overused screenwriting template. However, it is in in fact based on an original story written by Edditi Effiong with Naz Onuzo and Bunmi Ajakaiye penning the screenplay.
Set about a reluctant coming of age tale of a spoilt brat played by Bankole Wellington, discarded to the NYSC camp in Bauchi by his father to drum some responsibility into him, the tale pivots midway to become a commentary on conservative Northern Nigeria culture and attitudes.
On paper, there’s a lot to bite into in this kind of story world , with vast amounts of potential for originality, but there’s an unholy fixation with rehashing familiar plots and scenarios, making it very easy to predict character arcs and major plotting decisions such as Bassey’s (Wellington) arc with his father (Kanayo), basically, the rich brat who has no interest in the family business. Or Miriam’s (Rahama Sadau) character as the down to earth and “wife material” love interest in contrast to the Lagos big girls Bassey is used to.
Feels familiar, doesn’t it?
Bassey’s supposed coming of age is so bizarre and needs explaining, his decision to stay back in Bauchi to serve isn’t motivated properly: fed up in Bauchi one minute, next minute he tells his sister he is tired of Lagos and needs time to think and won’t be redeploying? This sudden desire to take time off in Bauchi wasn’t presented sufficiently–was he doing it in rebellion to his father or throwing a tantrum about his cheat of a girlfriend (T.Boss)?
Either way, somehow, Bassey becomes a responsible young man and P.E teacher up north, along with his friend Sadiq, played by Ibrahim Suleiman who seemed too excited to be in a film, with his ready smiles and half hearted line readings. With a character growth that convenient, maybe there’s something about the North that transforms people.
Like all sport drama formulas, Bassey and his squad encounter hostile attitudes in their desire to set up a running girls team for the school, with a particular father, Usman, played with verve by Saeed ” Funky Mallam” Mohammed giving them issues, just to protect his asthmatic daughter from running, they also contend with the near suspension of the entire running team by an under pressure Principal. Familiar too.
Thankfully and conveniently, this spate of clichéd scenarios is resolved with some nearly passionate speech delivered almost immediately
Shortly after, the film shortly detours to a National Geographic Travelogue, giving Bassey and Miriam ample screen time together to spark off their predicted union before he departs to Lagos for his Blake Snyder’s ” Dark Night of the Soul” moment.
There’s a supposed tense sequence in the final chapters of this tale, still in the sport drama cliche special; when the young girl initially dissuaded from running was eventually let loose, the car bringing her breaks down conveniently. Here, director Tope Oshin hopes to manufacture some suspense, but cuts it short by presenting a tricycle almost immediately. Of course, the girl arrives in time to hear Bassey give an imitation of a passionate speech before crossing the tape in glorious slow motion.
To end this great show ,Bassey and Miriam finally show their love at the wedding of his friend.
Up North is a well made film, the Northern girls here win every single time they are on screen, Perhaps Up North will work for someone less burnt out on the contemporary glut of rich kid coming of age – sport drama narratives. Maybe this is what New Nollywood is all about, but Up North points it out too obviously.