Jan 10, 2019
Welcome back for another Netflix Original, this time our very first film from the Nigerian film scene. We haven’t reviewed many films from the African continent, but for a film from South Africa, check out “Catching Feelings” (Episode #143). And if you have any suggestions, please let us know at onemoviepunch.com or by reaching out over social media. We always love exploring film scenes outside the United States.
Today’s movie is “Lionheart” (2018), the Netflix Original Nigerian drama directed by Genevieve Nnaji and written for the screen by Ishaya Bako, Emil B Garuba, and C.J. “Fiery” Obasi. The film follows Adaeze (Genevieve Nnaji), the daughter of Chief Ernest Obiagu (Pete Edochie). After Ernest falls ill, he brings in his brother Godswill (Nkem Owoh) as temporary director for his transportation company, who must work with Adaeze to save the company after some unknown loans come due.
I really admire Netflix’s effort to reach into some of the growing film scenes around the world, especially those finding their distinct voice in a globalizing world. The Nigerian film scene, better known as Nollywood, has become one of the largest film scenes in the world, often vying with Bollywood and Hollywood for the top spot, in terms of output if not necessarily at the box office. I’m actually kind of surprised that Netflix hasn’t found more entries to bring over, because like Bollywood, I really enjoyed watching today’s movie as a peak into parts of Nigerian culture, at the social, economic, and political level. I must admit, I felt a little lost at times, trying to decipher all the nuances, but if nothing else, “Lionheart” whets my appetite for more output, even if today’s film has some rough spots.
Genevieve Nnaji has one of the most impressive filmographies in Nollywood, well-known since her childhood acting years, and a household name in Nigeria. Her skill as an actor shows quite well in “Lionheart”, bringing warmth and depth to Adaeze’s struggle to be accepted as a leader in a still male-dominated society, especially when it comes to the business world. Adaeze’s story is not all that different from the string of aspiring corporate female stories that dominated the American romantic comedy genre for about a decade, not to mention the not-so-subtle themes of the more chauvinistic men in the film treating Adaeze like property in a few scenes. In fact, I would have liked to have seen Godswill’s role diminished to better spotlight Adaeze, despite their great chemistry on screen, as I think the stronger focus on Adaeze would have made for a better overall story.
However, “Lionheart” is also Nnaji’s first venture behind the camera, and her inexperience shows more often than not. The two biggest challenges were tone and composition. Tone-wise, I felt the comedy and drama didn’t flow well together, although there were some great individual comedic scenes and great individual drama scenes. The tone problems were likely related to the at-times patchwork script. Composition-wise, multi-perspective shots could come across really rough, losing chemistry between the characters when reshooting from different angles. I suspect most of those problems, though, could be smoothed out with some creative editing.
“Lionheart” (2018) is the first Netflix Original acquisition from the Nigerian film scene, but very likely not their last. The overall film is better than its noticeable flaws, but they hold back the film from being something better. Dramedy fans, or folks looking for a gateway into the Nollywood scene, should definitely check out this film, and then seek out the many other offerings available out there.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 6.2/10
“Lionheart” (2018) is rated TV-PG and is currently streaming on Netflix.