by Wilfred Okiche
The television movie special of the week, as currently championed by the Lifetime network has its routine ingredients. Overly simplistic story of love and family, tear inducing plotline that almost always involves disease or death, a story that offers redemption and hope after taking its characters through the wringer, maudlin background music and stock production values.
In many ways, Love or something like it, the latest from Shirley Frimpong-Manso’s Sparrow productions is a television movie event of the week. It tries to do things differently though at times, like when it opens with a big bang.
By bang, I don’t mean one of those loud, thrilling car chase scenes involving lots of gunplay. We are talking sex here. Another clumsy, unbelievable sex scene, the type which fans of Frimpong-Manso’s work should be familiar with by now. A beautiful couple, clothed from the waist upwards, the lower halves hidden under covered sheets, cavorting and pretending to be having the best sex possible. It is the same scene that opened Frimpong-Manso’s 2014 film, Devil in the detail.
This time instead of Ghanaian Adjetey Anang and Nigerian Nse Ikpe-Etim, we get Jocelyn Dumas and John Dumelo, both huge stars in Ghana with huge crossover appeal. They play a gorgeous, newly wedded couple still basking in the afterglow of nuptial consummation.
She is a gifted surgeon; beautiful, stunning, yet empathetic and devoted to her work. The screenplay- and everyone else-calls her Kwarley but we’ll just call her Angel. Not just because of Dumas’ flawless skin and stunning physique, but because she is the type of professional to abandon a heavy make out session with her newly wed husband to rush to her patient’s bedside at the prompting of a phone call.
He is a boring, wealthy dude embodying all the excitement of a black and white film in his ballooning physique. We’ll call him Angel too because what kind of man would support and tolerate such frustrating behaviour?
Anyway, both enjoy brief scenes of conjugal bliss interspersed with hints of underlying tension. He loves her whole heartedly. She claims she does too but is obsessive about using barrier contraceptives during intercourse. A couple more scenes set up her skill as a surgeon. Then the artificial bubble bursts. A former lover (OC Ukeje, taking the token Nigerian spot) walks into Kwarley’s consulting room. One look at him and it is obvious from his powdered face, gaunt frame and jaundiced eyes (make up department working overtime), that he is chronically ill.
Kwarley takes stock of her life after going through his medical history, recalling a particular unfortunate incident that will now turn her world upside down.
Shirley Frimpong-Manso and partner Ken Attoh, have with their string of hits become the most observant chroniclers of middle-upper class Ghanaian life. They have put their lens on male-female relationships (Contract), strain of infidelity on married life (Devil in the detail), and this time, they are going for the menace of HIV/AIDS as it relates to middle/upper class Africans. They don’t particularly say anything new or offer original perspective. Instead they go for a simplistic dramatic flair and a happy ending that doesn’t necessarily give the story any defining characteristic.
Love or something like that is at least pretty to look at. The direction, subtle but effective, even when the story isn’t strong enough. Most responsible for the gorgeous eye candy on display, is Joceylyn Dumas. Unarguably one of the most beautiful woman on the continent, she appears in every single frame, in every scene and is asked to carry the picture on her own mostly. She is up to the task, convincing in her performance as a medical practitioner. Her adequacy in the hefty emotional scenes are also displayed. Known as a media darling and all round It girl, Dumas puts up a fine, uncluttered performance.
John Dumelo who has had trouble picking decent roles all his career hits a bright spot here and even though he does not get as much screen time, holds his own, save for a stumble or two. OC Ukeje plays Henry, the clichéd free spirited artiste and even though he looks like he is drowning in all that make up, is in terrific form. His scenes with Dumas are crackling with energy, especially the one where they light up a toke together.
Frimpong-Manso who shares credit for the screenplay has an obsession with shooting sex scenes, which is fine as they help to move the story along but perhaps, because of censorship constraint or a plain lack of balls, does not shoot them quite well. Here in particular, they feel redundant and set up just for the sake of it, mostly because they aren’t believable.
The pacing is deliberate but the film doesn’t quite know when to quit and tacks on unnecessary sub plots that go nowhere fast. The end itself is a fizzle and plays like everyone ran out of steam. The picture is crisp and beautiful and soundtrack consists of contemporary pop music. The Davido addition however is just a shameless ploy to keep Nigerian butts on cinema seats.
Not everything that starts well ends well but for the singular pleasure of ogling Ms Dumas’ anatomy (a work of art in itself), Love or something like that may be well worth the price of admission.
– The writer tweets from @drwill20