by Ella Bakare
Kayode Kasum’s 2020 movie ‘This Lady Called Life’ (TLCL) has all the potentials of a good storytelling experience. With Kasum’s signature cozy aesthetics, close range emotional shots, and eye-catching visuals, a lot is promised. The actors for the most part “understand the assignment” and actually do a good job of salvaging this movie from what is the disastrous consequence of poor story development. The storyline is ambitious but the execution is quite the stillbirth in comparison.
To put it simply, the makers of this movie simply do not know what story they want to tell.
Going by the main plot, you expect to see the coming of age story of a young lady who beats the odds to live out her passion of becoming a big time chef. In the beginning, this direction is teased, with the attendant subplots of romance, parental abuse, single motherhood and friendship chugging along just fine. But the eventual deviation from self actualization/ rebirth drama to romantic comedy is quite the letdown. Not because this writer has anything against romantic comedies, but when you raise serious issues like parental abuse, neglect and rape and then fail to follow through by giving these sub plots the treatment and resolutions they deserve, instead settling for low hanging fruits like romance and marriage, as the magic wand that absolves all guilt, what you get can only be described as disappointing.
But that’s not all.
Another confounding inconsistency is the attempt at surrealism using Aiye’s (Bisola Aiyelola) in and out battle with her subconscious. About two times in the movie her on top a stage enduring an eerie background and a stern looking audience of familiar people. Every time she attempts to say something, nothing comes out until she is eventually booed off the stage. They never actually take us back to this subconscious state to see her finally ‘find her voice’ or ‘speak up’ which, in all honesty, is quite apt. Because as far as this movie is concerned, she never does speak up. Some will argue that telling her mom she was raped and getting over her stage fright in front of the judges are all signs that she has found her voice but that’s just a copout. The Aiye that keeps choking in front of an audience full of friends and family members is battling with something much deeper than stage fright. Also, the Mummy (Tina Mba) that has nothing but scathing words of hate and disdain for Aiye even when she was still a little girl is dealing with something much deeper than simply “I didn’t want you to turn out like me”. Aiye’s ‘lost voice’ is more the psychological effect of years of constant repression by her mother and being raped by someone she loved .
The story never does justice to Aiye’s very valid struggles. We never actually see her find herself. She ends up getting married to Obinna (Efa Iwara) which does nothing to suggest that she has grown into the confident, successful woman she was trying to be in the beginning. We do not know where her big chef dreams have landed her, whether or not she wins the competition, or if she finally deals with her self esteem issues. All we know for sure is that she marries Obinna. The only plot that is truly resolved is her romance with him and this leaves me with an unsatisfactory taste in the mouth at the end of the movie, regardless of how beautiful the chemistry is. Dialogue flows seamlessly, emotions are real, and the scene framings are top-notch, but Aiye’s romantic life is only one aspect of her story. She is not a damsel in distress who needs to be saved; she is a woman on a mission and we never see her complete it.
What we see in TLCL is evident of a larger problem of storytelling in most Nollywood plots. We keep asking for our filmmakers to go for wider subject matters and topics more encompassing of the whole human experience. Once in a while they harken to our call but in doing so only expose themselves. Perhaps it’s not a case of unwillingness to explore various topics after all. What this new trend of valiant but watery plots has shown is that what filmmakers really suffer is a lack of depth and a well rounded understanding of these topics. The eventual result is what we see in TLCL. They get stuck somewhere along the line and are unable to tie up their plots. In the rush for a resolution, they reach for stereotypical devices like Aiye and mommy’s forced reunion which only sacrifices character/plot consistency for a contrived ending.