Revisiting Michelle Bello’s “Flower Girl,” the Nollywood movie that defined the romantic comedy genre

While studying for her Masters degree in Communications at Regent University in Virginia, United States, Michelle Bello developed the first draft for Flower Girl. The class was asked to write a full-length feature film script, which she had never done before. But she knew the story would be a romantic comedy. “I really wanted to take this genre and adapt it to a modern day movie set in Lagos, Nigeria. I wanted to explore a whole range of characters – both their good sides and their bad sides because at the end of the day, no one is perfect.” Bello said in a 2013 interview.

Flower Girl was originally called Caught Up, and the script was completed within two months and produced by Bello’s then-fledgling film company Blu Star Entertainment. On Valentine’s Day 2013, the film had its cinema opening in Nigeria, a box office hit, and was screened at the Hollywood Black Film Festival the same year. Winning Best Set Design and Best Editing at the now-defunct Nolly Awards in 2014, and a slew of other awards, Flower Girl solidified its status as an acclaimed rom-com by a female indie director.

In a 2014 interview with Vanguard, Bello said Flower Girl was about love and getting to know what real love is. I think what made the film particularly magnetic was the core cast: Damilola Adegbite and Chris Attoh, who were already castmates in the successful and long-running TV drama Tinsel on M-Net. Damilola and Chris had met on the set of the show, and a romance had brewed, one that positively altered their screen chemistry. After a four-year stint playing a lead role as Telema Duke, Damilola said goodbye to the hit soap opera. She would later play another lead role in Michelle Bello’s Flower Girl as Kemi Williams, a young romantic florist who works in her parents’ florist shop while constantly dreaming of her perfect wedding day.

Her longtime lawyer boyfriend Umar, played by Chris Attoh, has promised to marry her when he gets a promotion at work, and she anticipates his marriage proposal. Damilola’s Kemi Williams is often sweet and playful. I’d probably be that way if I have to spend working hours in an enclosed space with a variety of flowers, all colourful and bright. Her close friend Stella (Bikiya Graham-Douglas) is even more sweet and playful. Sometimes quirky, Stella is showy in her fashion and attitude – a conspicuously large petal is pinned to her hair in one scene, and, in another, she yelps in delight when she notices a celebrity at a party.

In their many conversations as friends, Stella feeds Kemi with information and gossips. She works in the same company as Umar, and by virtue of that, she becomes aware that Umar will be promoted in a meeting with their boss. Of course, Kemi is over the moon about this. Umar invites her to the meeting, which is at the Lagoon Restaurant. Desperately, Kemi wants to hear him propose that she asks the diners there to be silent for two minutes. Unknowingly, she speaks rudely to Umar’s boss who approaches them, an interruption that leads to Umar breaking up with her right at the very spot.

Flower Girl follows the basic tenets of a romantic comedy, and even further complicates the story when popular Nollywood actor Tunde Kilani (Blossom Chukwujekwu) enters the picture. By accidentally knocking down Kemi with his car, he inserts himself into her life. We see Kemi and Tunde in a kind of quasi-relationship, an arrangement that sprung from Kemi asking Tunde to help her win Umar back. So he gives her ideas on getting back her man. Because Tunde is widely popular, his “relationship” with Kemi becomes the new paparazzi obsession, a fodder for the tabloids.

The movie wants you to believe that nothing possibly romantic will happen between Kemi and Tunde, and when it does eventually, it gives a satisfactory audience payoff. Flower Girl predates more noticeable films in the genre like 2016’s record-breaking The Wedding Party, and it set a modern tone for others to follow. Its funny scenes spontaneously happen, as when Umar in the gym, distracted by a soft-sell magazine splashed with a romantic picture of Kemi and Tunde on its cover, trips down from a treadmill and lands on his face. Or when Kemi’s parents, played by Patrick Doyle and Rosan Edremoda-Ugbeye, jointly pester Tunde to have dinner with them while Kemi mildly cringes in disapproval. “The fun for me as a writer and where the comedy comes from is the honesty of these characters to their own beliefs,” Bello adds, “no matter how crazy the situation. I hope others enjoy the story as much as I did.”


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