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Examining the intricacies of a character has never really been the concern for Nollywood’s escapist films but, more recently, however, it appears the trend seems to be slowly changing with what the offerings many of what call“young Nollywood.” Kemi Adetiba’s ambitious 2018 King of boys was not a bad take on character study wrapped in political intrigue, and Adekunle Adejuyigbe’s The Delivery boy showed some promise in trying to understand the life of a teenage suicide bomber. Honest intentions, yes, but flawed insights into the Nigerian condition.
Elevator baby is yet another offering of the ilk of the malformed. It doesn’t take itself as seriously of course, as Niyi Akinmolayan’s Anthill Studios and first time director, Akay Mason, team up in attempting to bring together two characters of vastly different backgrounds, juxtaposing the complexities of a rich, spoilt and over-pampered playboy, with that of a semi-literate, lower class, pregnant woman, desiring to show us that no matter where you come from or how much money you have, it doesn’t hide the thing that ultimately makes us who we are– pain.
The result is a film that shows us very clearly that it has all the right ideas, but lacks the necessary depth and artistry to pull it off, ultimately being unable to resist going back to the familiar and well-trod territories of comedy and poorly setup “big reveals”.
The film’s opening 20 minutes attempt to give insight into Dare Williams (Timini Egbuson). It’s firmly established that he’s our reckless playboy as we find him drinking and partying, mostly yelling at anyone who dares disrespect or disagree with him. First, we see Dare with a couple of friends arguing with the manager of a night club and a member of staff when he finds out his card is being declined because there isn’t enough money to pay for the drinks he’s ordered, “Don’t you know who he is?” his friends yell in support as he’s forced to leave behind some valuables to compensate, including a particularly precious staff that he’s irked to be parting with, apparently belonging to his late father. When he gets home, he proceeds to drill his mother, Mrs. Williams (Shaffy Bello) on how embarrassed he was because she forgot to put money in his account, but the truth is she didn’t forget, she did it on purpose; a few heated words are exchanged of course, and there’s obviously a slap waiting for him as he ridicules his mother’s relationship with his stepfather. After this, he proceeds to argue with close friend and ex-girlfriend, Nana (Ijeoma Aniebo) about the importance of family and respecting his mother and step dad. A couple of days later, he goes on to fight with his friends who were in his words “too broke” to save him from the embarrassment he endured at the nightclub, complaining about how they’re leeching off him. His friends, in retaliation throw him out, but not after trolling Dare on the fact that he depends on his mother for all his needs.
The film does enough to keep you interested in these opening scenes, however, the following incidents that would lead our Grinch into a glorious epiphany and experience catharsis is barren.
Nevertheless, we surge on. We hoped to understand the ideas of some bigger issue relating to the death of his father, which is to be the subtext to Dare’s outwardly haughty behavior, but when it came, it was too late, we felt no pity. The right questions are never really asked as the filmmakers worked with a peripheral vision. Interestingly, this first act of the film is perhaps the part that best requires Timini’s top skills as an actor. But he however finds himself deficient in being able to show the nuance and range that is required for Dare’s complex character. Although, his seeming ‘energetic’ displays in the film’s second act will most certainly fool or please audiences as much as Sola Sobowale’s antics in King of boys did but, truth be told, he isn’t helped much by the writing.
Nollywood favourite, Toyin Abraham, delivers quite a competent but not an awarding performance as Abigail, our mostly illiterate pregnant woman; the chemistry between these two actors keep us believing that our characters are actually in danger. One must wonder why her character and the intriguing secret she’s hiding are not introduced or setup earlier, seeing the pivotal role she plays in Dare’s supposed transformation.
Dare finds himself stuck in an elevator after he decides to knot a tie, find work and stop being mummy’s boy. He suddenly realizes that he has a first-class degree in Mechanical engineering and decides to seek financial independence by getting a job. “How hard can it be?” he ponders to himself. Well, Nigeria’s numerous unemployed and under-privileged youths may very well answer that question. After a series of rejections, he finds himself frustrated. On this seeming final attempt, he finds himself stuck in an elevator with Abigail.
The writer’s intention is obviously to generate tension between these two dissimilar characters, but by limiting their tragedies to mere flashbacks and side comments rather than grounding itself completely in our characters gritty realities, Dare’s well masked pain and Abigail’s feelings of betrayal and guilt–the film exposes a problem that “young Nollywood” must first address in its “Oscar worthy” strides, that back story alone does not equate to depth. It must learn to attack the realities head on without the flimsy escapist device of flashbacks as used in the film. If you must, there’s an art to it. It goes on to entice us with the surface level deception of popular Instagram skit maker, Broda Shaggi’s comedic relief, and over-animated reactions from supporting characters, and of course as the film’s title suggests, the appealing visual creation of the elevator baby.
The mix of practical and visual effects used in designing the film’s elevator sequences are well worthy of note, some parts quite unnecessary as it ends up looking more animation than realistic imagery to the world of the film. But we understand the need to show off some skill. The film is well-paced but ultimately lacks contextual spectacle that needlessly mars the film’s second and third act.
The film’s resolution does not include any sort of reconciliation with Dare and his mother, seeing as this all started between them and her show of tough love obviously led him to this moment where Dare supposedly learns to be a better person. It’s surprising that she disappears from the film after she makes a call to Dare’s stepfather informing him of the elevator situation. Instead, we get a rushed “I didn’t like you before but you helped me get through this now we’re friends” conversation with his stepdad, flanked by his other friends from earlier who have now forgiven him. And Ijeoma Aniebo laying a gentle peck on his cheek as the screen fades to black and the credits roll. It’s the somewhat unconvincing and lazy ending that duly takes away from whatever has been achieved before.
Elevator baby is not a bad film, and Akay Mason certainly shows promise, but if the film bills or prides itself in attempting to tackle its characters’ surface level deceptions, it must rather ironically first take care of its own or find itself a most worthy representation of self-deceit.
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