Released: 4th Janurary
Seen: 9th January
Say what you will about how Netflix operates with its originals but it has always been a good place to go for films that are not likely to get a mainstream release. Sometimes that means high quality films that just don’t fit what a distributor normally would consider mainstream, sometimes it means they pick up the things everyone else forgets, occasionally it’ll mean they’ll make everyone suffer through an Open House or two, and sometimes it means that they’ll find a voice that would normally be restricted to a smaller market or the indie circuit and give it a global audience right at their fingertips. When that last one happens, it tends to find something interesting and this time Netflix found a Nigerian comedy with a female director and decided to put it in front of the globe and thank goodness they did.
Lionheart revolves around Adaeze (Genevieve Nnaji), a young woman who works for her father, Ernest (Pete Edochie) at Lionheart Transportation. When her father falls ill and someone needs to take over the company, Adaeze is absolutely certain that she’ll be the one picked to take over for her father. She’s shocked to discover that her father has instead chosen her uncle, Godswill Obiago (Nkem Owoh), to take over for him while he recovers. Even though it hurts, she still works hard for the company… and has to take on the biggest threat to her family business ever when it’s revealed that her father took out a one billion naira loan (Or, roughly, 2.7 million US) and it’s due within 30 days. So now, while dealing with the pain of her father’s illness and trying to make it in a male dominated business world, she must also try to save the company in any way that she can… while also dealing with her uncle the entire time.
Genevieve Nnaji is a director that everyone should be keeping an eye out for in the future. While she’s already big in Nigeria as an actress, the western world might not know her as well. I admit that I didn’t know her before this film but now that I know who she is, I’m going to be an eye out for her because she is absolutely incredible. Her direction is stunning, pulling out great performances from her cast and assembling a really sweet film while also giving an incredible leading performance. She mixes comedy and moments of emotional family drama superbly and seeing how she manages to make the film effortlessly enjoyable makes me excited to see what her directorial work will be in the future. The performance by Nkem Owoh as her uncle is just a genuinely hilarious performance, especially any time he’s defending his niece or when he overhears something going on and decides to step in to doear the right thing. The two of them together are an incredible pair. It’s a touching relationship, a kind that we don’t really see in films that often. While seeing the relationship between a child and parent is common, the bond between a niece and her uncle seems to be very rare and it’s wonderfully done here.
The storyline is pretty simple, it’s the standard “Child needs to take over the father’s business” plot with a slight twist but that allows them to focus mostly on the charm. This is not one of those laugh out loud comedies where you’ll bust a gut, it’s a more subdued comedy with a few really good lines that get a giggle but for the majority of the movie you’re smiling because everything is just charming. The main performances draw you along on this simple ride that is a genuine delight, and seeing Asaeze’s rise through the ranks makes you feel hopeful that she’ll break through that glass ceiling by the end of it. I do wish they’d had a few more moments like the jail cell scene, easily a comedic highlight that revolved around a really absurd situation and had a lot of great laughs in it, but for the most part it’s just a nice easygoing movie that’s a joy to watch.
Every actor in this film is something special, I’m sure all of them are big in their country and I feel like a fool for having slept on them so long. Each one brings so much charm and warmth that I can’t even bring myself to think up a negative about the film. I end up just relaxing and enjoying the film, I may have seen similar films before and so I will admit that I didn’t get as emotional about the story as I might’ve had I not seen this kind of story before, but it still worked really well.
Lionheart is a film with the heart of a lion. It’s full of charm and sweetness with some great leading performances. It may not be the most original film I’ve seen and I may have wanted them to push a little more into the comedy because they really excel in those moments, but it’s just a really good film that kept me smiling the entire time and sometimes, that’s all you need.