Film Review: New Money is awkward, clumsy

Some would argue that if ever there was such a thing as the Nigerian Dream, unmerited favour would come closest to capturing this lofty ideal. And why not? In Nigeria, equal opportunity is a mirage, inclusion is a pipe dream. And as for that often repeated line about finding strength in diversity? Surely only politicians on the prowl for cheap soundbites seem to understand what it means.

Honest work, just rewards may have been the ideal way to please the Lord a hundred years ago, but these days, offer a generous tithe and the pastor is likely to make God’s blessings rain down. This explains why Nigerians put aside major and minor differences every season to rally round a winner for television’s Big Brother. It also explains why sports betting and Ponzi schemes are such cultural behemoths.

Money doesn’t care who owns it. A vagrant has just as much right to hitting a million Naira jackpot as DJ Cuppy does to her inheritance. In the wordly race for mad money, when great genes don’t show up, then divine favor and arriving at the right place at the right time are just as important.

Toun Odumosu (Jemima Osunde), the heroine of New Money, the latest collaboration between Inkblot productions and FilmOne distribution, finds out in an extremely dramatic fashion that she isn’t just a regular shop girl with dreams of making it big – via her talent – at the Lagos Fashion and Design Week.

In one of those twists of fate that everyone not named Dangote must surely fantasise about from time to time, Toun finds herself – by sheer accident of birth – the sole heiress to a multimillion Naira company.

According to her dad’s (Kalu Ikeagwu, sufficiently creepy) final testament, Toun despite having no work experience beyond attending to customers in a Lekki supermart and helping out at her mother’s even smaller business, must take charge of a vast, multi-pronged company for a specified period of time, pending the appointment of a new CEO.

In other words, she has been set up to fail, spectacularly too, but we are at the movies. Nothing is impossible and with a little pluck, a tinge of vim and a dash of romance, even untested heroines get their chance at having it all.

It is an interesting enough, if unoriginal premise that New Money arms itself with and the film could have been a whole lot better – maybe even good – if enough care or attention had been put into making a worthwhile product. Written by Naz Onuzo (The Wedding Party 2, My Wife & I,) New Money benefits from his skill at plotting as the film has its heroine jumping through some thrilling hoops – both personal and professional. This includes the overkill of gifting her with not one, but three love interests.

The screenplay is a jumble of noisy scenes, clanging and screeching with overacting, not to mention the extra-judicious use of pop music. Simisola, the debut album by pop star suffers the most as director Tope Oshin hides under its umbrella to cover a lot of her deficiencies. And they are a lot.

Subtlety is the first casualty of Oshin’s perfunctory grip on the material. Like a Bolanle Austen-Peters theatre production, pop music is (over)utilised to capture the moments that aren’t spelt out in the dialogue. While this gimmick may fly on the stage, nothing spells laziness quite like this in a feature film. This of course undercuts the actors from doing their jobs effectively. Why be bothered to emote, when Simi can tell the audience exactly how to feel with a minute or two of Remind Me or Original?

Toun isn’t written as a very sensible character and her childish petulance doesn’t make her any more endearing, but Osunde’s spunky presence lights up the screen and keeps her on the good graces of the audience. A little more attention to the characterisation and it could have been a brilliant star making turn.

New Money is an awkward contraption, funny at times, clumsy at others. This lack of finesse for a production involving cinema’s new elite and for a story about wealthy persons living and working in Lagos Island is almost shocking. The acting is hit and miss but Dakore Akande with an air of casual sophistication is one of the redeeming graces. A single wordless scene which she shares a hug with erstwhile rival, Kate Henshaw speaks plenty.

The picture is pretty, the actors even more so, but all that brightness does not even attempt to cover up the screenplay’s paucity of depth. Actors jump from one life challenge to the other without pausing to internalise them or reflect on what it means for their characters. The result is the film’s underwhelming ending. In this way New Money is closer to a cheesy soap opera than a feature length.

But even television shows have been known to be more cinematically involving.

If New Money locates its audience at the box office, it is because the film’s makers know their target and have responded directly to them. Like the film preaches, money doesn’t choose its owners. Give people what they can aspire to and they won’t mind parting with their money. It is the way of the world.

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