The following is a review of Lionheart — Directed by Genevieve Nnaji.
Lionheart is the first original film from Nigeria that Netflix has acquired, and it is also the directorial debut of the Nigerian actress Genevieve Nnaji, who also plays the lead role here. In Lionheart, Nnaji, who Oprah Winfrey apparently once referred to as the ‘Julia Roberts of Africa’ plays Adaeze, a well-dressed and seemingly wealthy partner in her family’s company ‘Lionheart.’
Adaeze appears to have been positioned and groomed to take over as managing director of the company when her father (played by Pete Edochie) retires. But when her father falls ill, he inexplicably hires his brother (played by Nkem Owoh) to take over as managing director of the company. Together Adaeze and her uncle must try to save the company from falling into the hands of rival Igwe Pascal (played by Kanayo O. Kanayo), who is ready to buy out the company, which, it turns out, is in debt.
It was about an hour into the film that I realized I was going to have to issue somewhat of a disclaimer before I gave my opinion of the film. Here is a film that, by all accounts, is a landmark achievement for Nigerian cinema due to the worldwide distribution that Netflix has provided, but, as I am not well-versed in Nollywood, I am not able to speak to the ways in which Nnaji’s Lionheart may or may not be a positive step forward for the film industry in a nation of which I know very little.
So, I would advise you to seek out another reviewer, if you are looking for someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of African cinema. I have had to view it like any other film as I am without the proper cultural context that may or may not enhance the experience of watching the film. And my honest opinion is that Lionheart is overly familiar and, though it does have some nice messages about family attached to it, the weightiest themes presented in the film are not properly developed here.
Lionheart is mostly, but with some noteworthy exceptions, well-shot, the message about family is heartwarming and it is presented in a very nice scene between Nnaji and Edochie’s characters. Though Edochie mumbles and rushes through his lines without feeling as present in the scene as I would’ve liked, the message that he somewhat successfully brought across brought a smile to my face.
Furthermore, I enjoyed watching Nnaji and Owoh in some of their scenes together. She is meant to be the straight man of a comedy that never really got laughs out of me, and Owoh is the unconventional new managing director who is meant to bring a fun and cheery feeling to the film. Nnaji gives a confident performance — I see why people like her — as a competent managing director-candidate who, it is implied, has tardiness issues, even though the opening scene showcases a coolness under pressure during a scene depicting a protest outside of the offices of ‘Lionheart.’
Unfortunately, that is where my positive notes for the film end. I thought that there was a lot of exaggerated acting in Lionheart and that is not to its benefit. For example, the antagonists’ smirks and angry glances are decidedly over-the-top. The timing of Edochie’s character’s illness is unintentionally almost comical. In his first scene during a board meeting, he praises Adaeze for being ‘her father’s daughter,’ and then as he gets up he immediately is incapable of working anymore. The formula of this type of story is incredibly familiar — and thus predictable — and Lionheart follows it to a tee. You know what is going to happen to Adaeze towards the end.
Though the film seems to be interested in exploring Adaeze’s role as a woman in a male-dominated business, the film doesn’t provide you with more than one scene which empowers the character. I don’t think it is properly explained exactly why Adaeze’s father turns to his brother and not his daughter to lead the company into prosperity. There are some noteworthy condescending comments, and her uncle is not held to the same standards as she is — not just in the industry, but also at home.
The film also, for some reason, has decided to make it appear as though she needs to understand that her way is not the right way. When she dislikes her uncle’s suggestion of a merger early in the film, he laughs in her face in a manner that felt somewhat condescending to me, and, of course, she ends up realizing that he was right an hour, or so, later. Frustratingly, at the end, when a merger is discussed, it is her father and uncle who take part in the meeting and not her.
In what is perhaps the weakest scene in the film, Owoh’s character is being threatened by someone only for Adaeze to barge in and slam a door into the person threatening her uncle. The man that has been knocked down screams out in pain. This could’ve been a really fun scene, but, for some reason, you don’t actually see anything happen. As Adaeze opens the door into the character thus knocking him down violently out of nowhere, the camera rests on Owoh’s face. This is a waste of a potentially funny scene.
Genevieve Nnaji’s directorial debut, Lionheart, has its heartwarming moments wherein the importance of family is emphasized, but her film mishandles some crucial moments of comedy and drama, and Lionheart is largely much too predictable.
4 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.