TIFF 2017: The Royal Hibiscus Hotel

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After looking at the decline of a relationship in his previous film, Road to Yesterday, Nigerian director Ishaya Bako lightens the mood this time around with The Royal Hibiscus Hotel. The film is everything you would expect from a romantic comedy, which carries its fair share of pros and cons depending on your viewpoint. At the centre of Bako’s tale is Ope (Zainab Balogun), a talented chef in London who dreams of opening her own fusion restaurant. Unable to get a loan from the bank, she agrees to return home to the Nigerian hotel that her parents own while she figures out her next step. Unbeknownst to Ope, two business men, one of which is the handsome Deji (Kenneth Okolie), are pressuring her parents (played by Jide Kosoko and Rachel Oniga) to sell the hotel.

As fate would have it Ope and Deji meet, with neither of them knowing how the other is connected to the hotel, and a genuine relationship starts to blossom. However, love and secrets are usually a recipe for heartbreak. Soon Ope and Deji find themselves confronting some tough decisions regarding the hotel and each other.

While Bako continues to display promise as a director, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel never quite hits the heights it could have. Which is a shame considering that Balogun and Okolie are delightful as the central couple. The chemistry they have is undeniable, as seen in scenes when it is just the two of them on-screen. Where the film stumbles in its supporting characters. Unlike other Nollywood romantic comedies, take the charming The Wedding Party for example, the secondary characters are so flatly written that the talented actors portraying them can only do so much. They are either one-note jokes, overexaggerated caricatures, or in the case of old flame Felix (played by the always fascinating O.C. Ukeje) not fully realized.

Though The Royal Hibiscus Hotel will no doubt find an audience with diehard rom-com fans, those looking for a more well-rounded experience will be somewhat disappointed.