By Ilodigwe C. Kenneth
On a certain media day animated by the high bells of a huge countdown, a cheerful and succinct post appears on Lord Tanner’s (Tolu Awobiyi) Instagram page. “I have had this one on my heart since 2013. It was my very first story…the one my heart really wanted to tell the world. I carried it around for years wondering when, who, where, and finally, we sold it, we’ve told it and soon we’ll share it with you all”. On the first of September, 2023, A Young Time Ago, starring Daniel Effiong, Timini Egbuson, Wale Ojo, Sandra Okonzuwa, and Sophie Alakija, opened to streams on Prime Video—a dream come true! The movie continues to sweep vibrantly through the length and breadth of the viewing arena, toppling a row of records in its wake. And what element should Lord Tanner’s new shot spring on us but climax, climax and climax?
The opening scene brings the calmly agitated older Kemi (Sophie Alakija) to light as she prepares for the adventure of discovery that awaits her into the night. Subsequently, the movie takes us—in swoops of comprehensive flashbacks—to a series of events that took place within a timeframe beginning from 2009. This sizzling narrative is moderated by the older Tayo (Daniel Effiong) who’s unsuspectingly lured into telling his life’s tale by Ukara (Sandra Okonzuwa), an adroit lady employed by his boss, Mr. Gee (Wale Ojo) to act as his just-divorced, heartbroken cousin.
The old university college of Ibadan—giving off an old-school halo with its colonial structures and its idyllic landscape—sets the stage for us. A chain of mundane and mysterious events culminates in a tale of passion, friendship, hubris, and regret. Young Tayo (played by Mofe Jebutu), just done with the day’s lectures, is seen leaving the classroom with his friends, who are no more than his roommate, his [roomie’s] girlfriend, and young Kemi (played by Tolu Osaile) —his music-obsessed heartthrob. He’s trying to work himself up to Kemi’s mind (an attempt he makes with the most artless gestures), and his friends are rooting for his designs upon the girl to come to fruition. Then Magic (Timini Egbuson), a spoilt, self-aggrandizing musical would-be based off campus shows up in his phony star-glory and Kemi is entranced by him. She sees him as the avenue to the fulfillment of her own musical aspirations and draws up to him with the help of her roommate who secretly works as a pimp for Magic and his wanton musketeers.
Care, absolute care, is taken to hold the plots together, as they unfold, in a lattice of natural coherence. We are carefully led, on the one hand, through the monotony of superficial frustrations that characterize young Tayo’s unreciprocated affection. On the other hand, we are faced with a peculiar dilemma: we’re torn between wanting young Kemi (amidst the perils that must attend her choice of a facilitator) to attain her artistic goals, and desperately rooting for her and Tayo to become an item. But things are hardly a bubble affair in the real world. Lord Tanner is aware of this, and he captures it in this engaging movie.
There’s the inevitable question, in the viewer’s mind, of whether or not Kemi realizes that Tayo is helplessly enamoured of her, for she behaves and responds to him as though she’s absolutely oblivious of his efforts to stick out even if for a moment. In the end, she’s played straight into Magic’s hands when she attends a shindig he throws at his house. Notice how, albeit clumsily enacted, some elements in this plot coalesce to portray what should have easily been a visible omen: Kemi—despite being from a wealthy home—isn’t familiar, or comfortable, with the riot that is Magic’s life, but accepting it by becoming a part of it is the quid pro quo for what she wants with him. Moreover, the mysterious collides with the paranormal in the movie as we see Malevolent (the figure in the black hood) switch turns with Angel in the plotting of destinies.
“Things,” in the narrator’s (the older Tayo) words, “take a most difficult turn from here” as we walk further down his memory lane. What begins as a regular shenanigan in Magic’s house ends in chaos and regret when, under the influence of a strange, powerful drug delivered to him by a sinister vendor, he goes brutally wild on Kemi: raping and beating her up at the same time. In the morning, he and his cohorts, now sober, are faced with the aftermath of their yesternight’s deeds, although Magic seems somewhat unaffected by the possible outcome of his action, ensconced, perhaps, in his family’s wealth and connection. Things begin, from here, to fall apart for everybody.
In the wake of Magic’s gruesome murder by a cult group whose leader Tayo solicits to help him avenge his sweetheart’s assault, everything and everyone in the picture comes harshly and unexpectedly undone. From here, Lord Tanner delivers us fully into a roller coaster of climaxes and abandons us to find the promised land. As the movie rolls on, one finds himself wriggling sentimentally (sometimes physically) in response to plots and characters imbued with blunt and passionate performances. Every scene harvests its due bout of both appreciation and dissension. We’re, in short, treated to life behind the screen!
A Young Time Ago, like the rest of Lord Tanner’s movies (Couple of Days—2015; Ajuwaya—2016; Tatu—2017; Bling Lagosians—2018; The Wait—2020 and just recently, Hide & Seek and Love in a Showroom), succeeds in many big aspects, but like every work of art, it has its peculiar weaknesses and shortcomings. I find its cast, which is a mix of incredible talent and passion, especially endearing, for by putting so much life and energy into their roles, those actors and actresses bring us with them to each scene, each plot, each location, and each character. There are, needless to say, a few lamentable shadow sides to the movie: points at which dramatical heightening jeopardized well-struck plots, and special effects did more harm than good. Also, the movie’s denouement seems a little too easy, too happy, and therefore disappointing. Impressive cinematography is somewhat mocked in the end by the abrupt insertion of angelic and demonic showdown. A Young Time Ago represents a histrionic reprieve from the quintessential Nollywood romance, albeit a distinctly shy one.