EbonyLife Films’ foray into romantic comedy with “The Wedding Party” was a richly satisfying venture that even spawned a sequel.
MO Abudu, the executive director of the production company, returns to the genre with “The Royal Hibiscus Hotel,” a star-studded romantic comedy.
Written and directed by Ishaya Bako (previous credits include the award-winning “Road to Yesterday” and “Braids on a Bald Head”) the movie features Zainab Balogun, Rachel Oniga, Jide Kosoko, Deyemi Okanlawon, Kemi Lala Akindoju, Ini Dima Okojie, Joke Silva, Olu Jacobs, Akah Nnani and Charles Inojie.
“The Royal Hibiscus Hotel” is about a Nigerian couple (Segun and Rose), who run a crumbling hotel in a little town in Nigeria. To settle their debts, a desperate Segun decides to sell the hotel without his wife’s knowledge.
Their daughter, Ope, who is living in London and working a dead-end job while trying to open her own restaurant, decides to return to Nigeria for a vacation.
Her parents are elated for different reasons: Segun wants her to sign the papers to sell her inheritance, while Rose wants to marry her off to the property developer, Deji, who is interested in purchasing the hotel.
We understand Segun’s reluctance to tell Ope about the state and sale of the hotel, but we can’t pretend to understand why he kept her identity a secret from Deji.
Ope eventually meets and falls in love with Deji without knowing his financial status or relationship with her father.
They fall into a romantic kind of love. Albeit too fast and unbelievable, it is the kind of love founded on friendship and staying awake after lights out to share drinks and dry jokes.
After Ope learns the truth about Deji, the expected romantic complications ensue.
If the plot sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s your favourite 90’s Harlequin romance novel all over again. One that would nevertheless appeal to a hopeless romantic.
As Segun, Jide Kosoko shows off natural comic chops that we have seen in his previous works, using his facial expressions.
The character Rose (Oniga), with her exaggerations and mannerisms, begs comparison to Sola Sobowale’s Tinuade interpretation of a dramatic Nigerian mother in “The Wedding Party.”
Nevertheless, Oniga as Rose, with moments of verbal and physical quirkiness, delivers a performance that puts the ‘comedy’ in “The Royal Hotel Hibiscus Hotel.”
Balogun is perfect as Ope, portraying the character with the right measures of vulnerability and determination as a disappointed lover and chef, respectively: Her character isn’t one given to self-pity.
With his role as the charismatic Deji, Okolie reiterates an already established fact: He is always a delight to watch in a romantic drama.
The chemistry between Deji and Ope is special. Their friendly and even spiky rapport is a delight to watch, hinting a mutual attraction way before it’s official.
With Segun and Rose’s relationship, “The Royal Hibiscus Hotel” attempts to humorously explore the institution of marriage while showing how difficult it could be to keep the intimacy alive after many years. Their marriage is compared to that of Augustina and Richard – played by the real-life couple, Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva – who, even after decades of marriage, still engage in public display of affection.
The alluring production design is one of the best parts of the film, while songs from the likes of Johnny Drille and Simi softly nudges the picture along.
But against those remarkable moments are some distractions. One is the plot, which has the hotel receptionist Chika (Kemi Lala Akindoju) being ridiculously crass and rude towards her employers and guests.
Another distraction is the presence of several beautiful but very unnecessary characters such as Joyce (Ini Dima Okojie) and Akah Nnani, who turn up to no particular effect.
Quite a number of talented actors appear in “The Royal Hotel Hibiscus,” delivering the ‘best’ of what their characters have to offer. Unfortunately, these characters aren’t developed enough for viewers to care about them. So you forget about them as soon as they are off the screen.
At the end, a starry cast is underused and the potential for much wittier characters and moments never realized.
Also, for a romantic comedy, there is surprisingly too little humour, much of it unnatural and mostly from the film’s dysfunctional supporting characters: A drunk chef, a dotish receptionist, and exasperating guests.
Nonetheless, “The Royal Hotel Hibiscus” is a crowd-pleaser. It is glossy. It is momentarily enjoyably. And it is worth seeing this valentine season.
It opens in cinemas on February 9, 2018.