Valentine’s is finally here, and the Royal Hibiscus Hotel movie has also arrived as promised. It is time for us to sit back and enjoy a concept of love as portrayed in a movie good enough to be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)
Certainly, it cannot be all about just love; there are also other things, and which are explored to some degree with The Royal Hibiscus Hotel.
Caution: this is not a flattering account of this movie.
In African culture, it is difficult to find a person from a rich home studying abroad to become a chef. This is a reality check, right here. How often does this happen? Never heard of it.
Seeing, though, that the movie starts after Ope (Zainab Balogun), our protagonist, is done with “college”, and we are not privileged to witness the African parents/child supposed argument about if she’s going to be a chef or not, it would be nice to witness a little resistance from Ope’s parents, Segun and Rose Adeniyi (Jide Kosoko and Rachel Oniga), about her ROLE OF COOKING presently, especially cooking for other people, and especially now that she is back home in Nigeria where the cooking profession is somewhat looked down upon.
One might want to argue that Ope’s parents own a massive hotel that has an industrial kitchen, and are not obligated to think primitively because they are exposed, but look at these people; do they look like they know what they are doing? The hotel is being run like a ratchet inn – there has to be some explanation for all of this trash.
This is, however, an amazing parody of the HOTEL BUSINESS. Ratchet is as ratchet does…from the receptionist, Chika (Kemi Lala Akindoju), down to the cook.
Moving on, the AFRICAN CUISINE idea which started off with great hopes and promised with a rewarding resolution falls flat along the way with no room for recovery. This might make one ask why the filmmaker went all out in the first place.
LOVE in this movie only works because it follows some of the boy-meets-girl formats used and proven to be effective worldwide. There is suspense of not knowing the true natures of each other, there are obstacles, and there is resolution. That’s really all about it with this movie.
They say the movie is a RomCom, though. Is the comedy supposed to be detached from the romance like it is here? Who are doing love is different from who are acting or talking funny. How difficult could it be to throw in some real comical features about the lovers, the real owners of the plot? There’s plenty of room; they are well underdeveloped till the end anyway. Oh, I get it! Indomie and egg hilarity – check ✔️ 4/10
One thing that sticks out like a sore thumb about this movie is how the script does no justice to some of the sets. It feels like the director blew the script out of proportion in some areas and, in the process, failed to fine-tune certain basic details. The most conspicuous would be the amount the hotel was sold for – 350 million naira for all that was shown about The Royal Hibiscus Hotel? More like in billions. What’s worse? Ope’s parents going crazy about it.
At this point, one might be tempted to ask if they really owned the hotel. If there is a backstory about how they managed to gain ownership of the hotel through the backdoor, thereby not really understanding the worth of it, then that would add to their whimsical nature. If there is also a concept of blackmail, forcing them to sell at that ridiculous price…. But, no.
When our “Prince Charming”, Deji (Kenneth Okolie), takes Ope out to dinner at Eko Hotels, it becomes clear where this Royal Hibiscus Hotel situates, as the audience had been wondering all along – Lagos. However, not long after, Ope says she’s running to Lagos when speaking with her girlfriend who came to pick her up from her hotel. Where does this friend stay? Why is the setting of this movie not spelt out clearly?
In the beginning, there’s this hurry about Ope going here or there with no real relevance for such rush. It would be nice for the audience to also be in a hurry with her each time she sets off, rather than them trying to understand the essence – that would require more script brains and effort.
Furthermore, when she has an interview with a hotel (?) director, his reason for rejecting her cuisine proposal feels like nonsense. Was any research ever done about African cuisine? Keri Hilson was recently seen skilfully swallowing swallow and vegetable soup. What about the international craze for Nigerian Jollof? Let’s not even start! If it was stated clearly that the movie is set in, say, the early 90s, all this would have made sense at all. It is not even sensible to have written the script in, say, 1994, and not edited for 2016/17. Blah!
There is no real conflict in this movie, making it fail in its attempt to really stand out from its clichéd representations of trouble. One bastard area would be with Ope’s friend, played by OC Ukeje. The audience already knew his part before it started or even ended. What’s worse? He poses no threat to Deji. Neither he nor Deji realized the other existed; thereby making Ope’s handling of the both of them a lot easier. No heart-breaking challenge for the protagonist in this aspect – too bad.
The love game in this movie does not start to feel real until Deji’s friend, Martin, (Deyemi Okanlowo) spills the beans. Ope is devasted, and runs back to the UK. Speaking of running back to the UK, she becomes the chief chef of a foreign kitchen. Remember she couldn’t stay in the beginning because she was under a chef who kept complaining about her African (?) spices. What is the perception of her cooking skills now in the Western world? No one knows for sure. Or let’s just say she made some friends.
It is sad that we never get to see Ope’s African impact in the international scene, though. Seems to me like slave-like-mentality – Africans can never shine in the western world. This filmmaker should grow some balls! 4/10
There are not as many extras as required to grace The Royal Hibiscus Hotel. Just a moment of guests at the cafeteria does no justice to the movie as a whole. It is also difficult to believe that The Royal Hibiscus Hotel has just one cook and one waiter – re: blowing the script out of proportion. It would also have been nice to include that the business was going down, even if it also seemed so. That would make some of the inadequacies forgivable.
The most underdeveloped character of this movie would be the Prince Charming, Deji, himself. Nobody knows who he is. Where did he come from? How did he acquire his wealth, and how is a young man like him able to afford to buy such an empire? Is his father Otedola or Dangote? Is he a fraudster? What is it? Also, what does he look out for in a woman? What is our chef, Ope, doing differently that catches his attention? All these are unclear… in fact, not present.
There is this hidden idea that Deji thinks he remembers Ope from the airport bump. Yes, hidden – that bump happened so swiftly that if the audience didn’t know him from the movie poster, they wouldn’t even remember the connection.
There is no backstory or sub-story about Deji. In this movie, he is nothing but a sex object to the Chika and to some horny females in the audience, and is only successful in filling an opportune vacuum in Ope’s life.
Thankfully, it is only when Ope sees his attention to detail to her passion and career that she starts to take him seriously. At least, some depth… but all of that happens too late – for a moment there, one would think the movie was about Ope’s struggles in trying to make an African statement in foreign kitchens.
Speaking of making a statement, we never get to see anything that suggests that her African recipes could go world-wide, apart from her dream talks – the same dreams that got dashed in the UK.
Heck, there’s no sub-story in this movie, not even with the protagonist. All that can be conceived here are ideas and leads that boil down to a trifle.
As a note worth taking, the actor who plays Ope’s male friend back home, OC Ukeje, needs to stop acting scenes that look like spur-of-the-moment roles. He did this with Black November, Half of a Yellow Sun, I bet Potatoe Potatoh, and now here?! He, in no way, looks as executive as he probably thinks he does playing these watery roles.
There is no comprehensive explanation for why Richard (Olu Jacobs) and Augustina (Joke Silva) are the prototype sampled here for real love. Is this another parody? ‘Cause they looked creepy. 4/10
The protagonist plays the role perfectly well, as she releases sweet dialects of British English each time she speaks. Dialects, yes, as she is not very consistent in her spoken language, but this can go unnoticed if you just focus on her sweet smile and jagged haircut.
Chika, indeed, has her own language, which is different from every other character, and which recommendably represents a good number of women in Nigeria. She’s untrained and unqualified, mannerless, almost insubordinate, sex-crazed, and has no business speaking with customers, yet she is allowed to. This reinforces the parodic concept of the movie.
A Nigerian movie would not be complete without a unique character speaking pidgin as his/her major mode of communication, and the Royal Hibiscus Chef fits in nicely. There is a huge contrast in communication between Ope and he in the kitchen, so much that it speaks volumes about their class differences.
Apart from the aforementioned, nothing else stands out in terms of dialogue – little creativity are applied generally; no utterance is being said that hasn’t been heard before in countless Nigerian movies.
Too many talking heads too – so much that it chokes. What are they talking about even? Picks from cliched Nollywood dramas? 5/10
Nothing progressive happens in this movie for a long while. The first 30 minutes are busy, though irrelevant to the main story.
It is interesting how the movie keeps the audience in suspense about Ope finally meeting Deji. This meeting and the relationship that blossoms thereafter does not take much time. This is meant to be a good thing, but feels amateurish in this stance. If there were more obstacles in the way – and I’m talking about real story-driven obstacles, not the salty food episode or the jealous dad scenes – the story would have been more captivating and suspense-filled.
Apart from these, the movie does moves smoothly from when it starts picking up (i.e. when boy finally meets girl) till the end, despite its plot-holes and a number of things amiss. 6/10
It is difficult to believe TIFF screened this movie in 2017; it must have been out of charity and a huge dose of networking. The movie seriously is lacking in depth and originality. 23/50
Isedehi Aigbogun, also known as ISD, is a staunch academic, holding a B.A., M.A., and PhD (in view) in English Language.
She’s a Screenwriter, Screenplay Analyst, Consultant, and Film Scriptic.