Traditional stories of love and romance usually end on positive notes with the embattled pair fulfilling the “and they lived happily ever after” prophecy. Such stories are often trapped between realism and idealism: the storyteller flaunts turbulent moments of the relationship to prove that romance is all but perfectionist fantasy; but then the couple, a wonderful gentleman and a beautiful princess-like lady, are just too fitting to be disconnected. A Young Time Ago borrows bits from this romantic tradition, but focuses more on a modern university setting where romantic relationships are sometimes dictated by uncritical and brutal selfishness.
When it comes to Nollywood romantic drama staple, give Biodun Stephen her flowers for consistency. But do not rule out filmmakers like Tolu “LordTanner” Awobiyi (Ajuwaya, Couple of Days, Hide ‘N’ Seek) who, in spite of a relatively slim oeuvre and yet not being unflinchingly faithful to a genre, seem to be getting it right with similarly modest-budget productions.
LordTanner tackles redemption, hope, revenge and the friend zone in this drama, as he makes the younger male protagonist Tayo suffer the consequences of his unguarded emotional decisions before being redeemed. The story begins in the present where an older Tayo, who manages a restaurant, entertains his boss’ female guest who claims to have recently suffered a heartbreak. Appearing to find solace in his company, the young lady, Ukara, listens to Tayo’s over-a-decade-ago university love misadventure. The beautiful thing about this opening scene is the ruse of predictability—seeing how Ukara and Tayo readily confide in each other, you are likely to think they will end up a cute pair. But this is not to be so, as the resolution takes the unlikely route.
As the filmmaker delves into Tayo’s past, which is physically set in the University of Ibadan, the harsh reality of that life is revealed. It is common for young university ladies to be idealistic and political about who they offer affection and attention, as we see in the case of Ann, Jumoke and Kemi who only want to fulfill their materialistic and hedonistic desires. Peer-influenced, the younger Kemi seems to desire a man that is not only financially stable but also in possession of the right links to help her music dream come through. It is no wonder she chooses to associate with the swanky Magic and his friends. So, while Tayo hopes to get more from his friendship with her, Kemi sees him as a mere friend. LordTanner understands that contemporary love, for the average Nigerian university guy, involves financial commitment as much as it is an emotional investment.
One of the hideous features of higher institutions in Nigeria is cultism. Most of these institutions have cult groups and fraternities that are notorious for carrying out criminal activities, including revenge killings, torture, rape and theft. It is also common for non-members, particularly those with strong ties to the cults and members of the political class, to contract such evil-minded groups with heinous tasks. In A Young Time Ago, LordTanner sheds light on this dark underworld of university life when Tayo meets Shadow and his gang to avenge the rape of Kemi.. Unfortunately for him, things go awry as Magic is tortured and killed, and Tayo gets implicated. The foolishly overzealous young man learns his lesson the hard way.
Just as films have their target audiences, LordTanner’s production appeals to the youth demographic of the Nigerian population, and this is achieved in a manner that is less harsh and more forgiving. It is safe to admit that many young men and women in their teens and twenties are likely to make mistakes in the search for a romantic partner and expression of romantic interest.
Much of the film’s narration happens in a flashback through the eye of the older Tayo, played by Daniel Etim Effiong who is full of nostalgia and regrets until the resolution. Yet there is another richly philosophical narrative voice that delivers a prologue and epilogue, adding some aesthetic spice to the production. The film also stars Sophie Alakija as the older Kemi, Wale Ojo as Uncle Gee, Timini Egbuson as Magic, Favour Ayah as young Chris, Mofeyintola Jebutu as young Tayo, Sandra Okozuwa as Ukara, Charles Jaybi as older Chris, Tolu Osaile as young Kemi, among others.
LordTanner’s attempt to reunite Tayo and Kemi after over a decade is a compensation for Tayo’s travails, but this reconciliation happens in a way that looks too good to be true. Both Tayo’s campus friend Chris and his girlfriend-turned-wife Franca are part of the plan as they suddenly appear, to Tayo’s surprise. It’s improbable that after many years of no contact and communication, which includes a ten-year jail period, a man would remain deeply in love with a lady who never cared about him from the outset.
Another doubt lies in the relationship between Uncle Gee, the restaurant owner and his employee Tayo. One wonders how profound the relationship between them is, considering Uncle Gee’s earlier claim in the film that Tayo joined the restaurant only a few weeks ago. How then, are Uncle Gee and Ukara able to help Tayo reconnect with his old friends, and what is the motivation behind this assistance? With these lingering concerns, the resolution of the film looks rather mushy and forced.