So I watched Tell Me Sweet Something…
This is going to sound awfully unpatriotic of me but I don’t really like watching South African made movies. There’s still a giant gap in terms of quality between locally produced movies and those made internationally; plus South African movies often have racial undertones that I don’t really care for. But the industry is ever-improving and Tell Me Sweet Something is evidence of this.
Okay, basic plot: Maratiwa (Nomzamo Mbatha) is an aspiring novelist who is suffering from writer’s block. As a teenager, Maratiwa was hailed as the next big thing in terms of writing but her work never matched the hype. Maratiwa planned on writing an “iconic African love story” but a lack of luck in her own love life has made her closed to love and her writing has suffered, as a result. This all changes when Maratiwa meets Nats Masilo (Maps Maponyane) – a semi-famous model who shows an interest in her. Maratiwa dismisses Nats as she thinks he’s too superficial and not her type but as she grows to know him, she learns that maybe ‘not her type’ is exactly what she needs to open up her heart and find love.
The problem with the South African film industry (and entertainment industry overall) is that it isn’t the cashcow that the international business is. If you’re moderately famous in America or Europe, you can earn enough to have a decent car and house (assuming you don’t live an extravagant lifestyle of fast cars and million dollar gold necklaces); in contrast, if you’re extremely famous in South Africa, you might not earn enough to pay for a taxi to work. It’s a sad reality and because of this, people working in the entertainment industry need to be pulling two or three jobs to make ends meet. This leads to a situation where you have jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none. This is the problem with Maps Maponyane. He’s a handsome man and also quite charming from what I’ve seen in tv interviews and so on; but he isn’t a good actor.
His acting in this movie reminds me of when a pro-athlete or a singer gets a cameo in a movie – we all know they can’t act, they’re just there to attract fans. Unfortunately Maponyane is playing the lead in this movie and his lack of acting talent really brings the quality of the piece down. He’s monotonous, from his facial expression to his line delivery. The character of Nats is quite similiar to Maponyane’s real life, so that means Maps isn’t believable as himself, which means he isn’t believable as a human being. Nomzamo Mbatha is much more proficient with her performance in this movie and while I found her character annoying at times, Mbatha’s portrayal was more than competent.
The real star of this movie though has to be Thomas Gumede. Gumede stars as Gordon – Nats’ best friend and all-round idiot. The majority of the comedy in this movie comes from Gumede and he definitely helped the movie stay fun and playful when it was threatening to became drab and dull. Kagiso Lediga also has a small part in this movie and I think he did really well with it. Lediga is probably the most experienced member of the cast and you can tell with his measured and well-timed comedic antics.
This movie feels discontinuous and the plot lacks real tension. I love romcoms but all romcoms – no matter how good – have inherently transparent plots. You know where things are headed, you know that the two people who don’t seem suited for each other are going to fall madly in love and somewhere along the line one person is going to run across a street to the other person. So since the audience can predict where things are going to end up, you need to make the journey as much fun as possible. Put obstacles in the hero’s way, make the romance really sappy and gooey. We know the two leads are going to end up together so the filmmaker’s job is two-fold: 1. make us want the leads to end up together and 2. earn the right for the leads to end up together. I never found myself rooting for the leads to end up together in this movie. This was, in part, caused by Maponyana’s dull portrayal of Nats but also because this movie’s writing is lacking focus and there’s never any substantial tension keeping the two apart. Anytime an obstacle comes around its hurdled within seconds and because there’s nothing for our heroes to overcome when they do end up together, it doesn’t feel earned and, therefore, means less.
The South African film industry is still growing but, more importantly, it’s still learning. In many ways, it’s like a baby taking its first steps and you can’t chastise a baby for not being able to run when it’s still figuring out how to walk. In that same way, I have to cut this movie a lot of slack for its technical errors because they are a product of the current limitations of the industry rather than lazy filmmaking. Things like characters not being in frame, poor cinematography, errors in continuity, poor sound editing are all things that I would lambaste in an international movie; but have chosen to forgive in this movie.
Overall, you have to look at this movie through very thick lenses of context. It can’t be held to the same standard as an international movie and certain elements of it need to be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s a good attempt and a step in the right direction for South African cinema. I love that we’re shedding the shackles of apartheid documentaries and obsolete Leon Schuster movies and starting to tell current, everyday stories. I think this movie would make a great date movie and as South Africans we definitely need to support local talent. Give it a watch 6/10