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First Look Review - TELL ME SWEET SOMETHING

A young writer struggles with her love life.



Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Akin Omotoso

Starring: Thomas Gumede, Maps Maponyane, Nomzamo Mbatha, Thembi Seete



What makes Tell Me Sweet Something so refreshingly unusual is the sheer unfettered jubilance of it all. Cinema that convincingly celebrates the potential joy of the human experience in the guileless manner of Tell Me Sweet Something is to be cherished.



An energetic romcom set in a dayglow Johannesburg, Akin Omotoso and Robbie Thorpe’s Tell Me Sweet Something is a candy box confection chock full of joy. A literary sensation as a child, lead character Moratiwa (Nomzamo Mbatha) is now the hapless proprietor of a second hand bookshop, her heart has been broken by previous relationships, and her creativity is now stifled by doubt and writer’s block. Moratiwa ekes out a loveless existence, unable to write or trust herself to fall in love, her loneliness only punctuated by her wacky best friend (Thembi Seete) and concerned mother (Mandisa Bardill). A night out with the former leads her into the arms of Nat (Maps Maponyane), a hunky model who is kind, sensitive and ridiculously peng… there’s only one problem, despite his on-fleek geek chic specs Nat has never read a book in his entire life! Can Moratiwa tempt him to pick up a Penguin Classics? Will Nat ever be desired for anything but his hench physique? Tell us sweet something!
So far, so rom com. But what makes Tell Me Sweet Something so refreshingly unusual is the sheer unfettered jubilance of it all. The tone is set by the animated title sequence that neatly condenses Moratiwa’s youthful rise and fall within the South African literary world: the primary hues and dynamic arrangements inform us that this is a cartoon story, a funny and colourful film, and one that takes a bravely optimistic look at everyday challenges and disappointments. This is no mean feat. In an Oscar season which suggests that cinematic gloom is held in the highest artistic regard - where a man trudging through snow with a grim look on his face is deemed honorific simply because grit equals sincerity in the judgement of an academy beholden to the adolescent outlook that only hard going representations of misery equate to an aesthetic authenticity (side note, despite being marketed as such, The Revenant is as much a true story as an episode of Eastenders is), and which persistently overlooks comedy - cinema that convincingly celebrates the potential joy of the human experience in the guileless manner of Tell Me Sweet Something is to be cherished.
In every chocolate box there will be the odd one or two morsels which aren’t to everyone’s taste, and Tell Me Sweet Something isn’t without flaws. The actual drama between Nat and Moratiwa never particularly feels urgent, nor does their coupling seem especially apposite (they appear to have been paired simply because of their reciprocally beauteous looks). The narrative is also rather loose at times, but then that allows for Tell Me Sweet Something’s wonderful caprice. We (literally) swing from a bungee corded Nat defacing a 30 storey billboard of himself in order to impress Moratiwa, to the bookshop being converted into a glitzy fashion runway for the night. These unlikely shifts seem perfectly convincing within this well realised, happy go lucky world. Tell Me Sweet Something is never anything less than visually gorgeous; to match its poppy primary colour scheme, there is superb costume design (everyone is so sartorial - at one point Nat wears tan chinos, a lipstick red t shirt and a leather waist cost, simply to browse Moratiwa’s shop: kudos to costumes/wardrobe dept, Vanessa Balsdon, Nicky Clark and Mduduzi Tanda) and the frame is vibrant with silly little details, my favourite being the mime artist who shuffles along every so often, and who at one point follows a downcast Moratiwa in order to mope along with her!

Tell Me Sweet Something is not entirely full of empty calories, however. Throughout the film there are charming cuts to talking heads of (what I presume are) genuine elderly couples discussing their long lasting love, giving the film’s romantic focus a real life credibility, and also, despite the film’s ostensibly escapist nature, there are several subtle acknowledgements of racial tension within Johannesburg too, of the discriminations that still exist within the fringes of South African society. But this is a film that refuses to define black experience by victimhood, and instead universally celebrates life and love. And by the time the de riguer rush to the airport to stop Nat leaving FOREVER is enacted as a low speed moped chase, you’ll be celebrating too.
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