Biola Alabi Media (BAM), the content and production company founded by the former Mnet Africa strong woman hasn’t quite lived a thousand lives, but in the cutthroat world of independent film production, a second feature length is no walk in the park.
In just under a year since 2017’s Banana Island Ghost, BAM renters the fray with Lara and the Beat, a musical slice of what life must feel like for the young and ambitious in today’s Nigeria. Directed by Tosin Coker (Finding Neptune,) Lara and the Beat is set in the same upscale, opulent world as 2017’s Banana Island Ghost. Coker’s film works as pop culture bait, cutting straight to the heart of Nigeria’s vibrant pop culture space, and zeroing on the music, the stars and the fashion. The characters are in turns fabulously wealthy, desperately broke and on the search for fulfilment.
Making her big screen debut, pop singer Seyi Shay is cast in the title role as a uber-spoilt brat who spends her luxury padded days shopping and glittery nights decorating the Lagos party scene. Lara and her sister, Dara (Somkele Idhalama) are heirs to the sprawling Giwa media empire, a money spinning behemoth managed on their behalf by a relative, Uncle Tunde (Wale Ojo).
While Dara takes at least a passing interest in the affairs of the company, and is known to attend the occasional board meeting, Lara is only interested in securing the assurance that the family business can fund her outrageous life style. Which makes Dara the more interesting sister, and not just because she is played by Idhalama, an actress who can be both vividly arresting and deathly dull on screen, depending on the quality of material and talent she is working with. In this role, deliberately underwritten to yield screen time and agency to Shay’s imperious Lara, there is only so much such a performer of limited range can do.
The Giwa fortunes do not survive an IRS raid. Turns out uncle Tunde has been helping himself to the Giwa cookie jar, leaving the estate indebted to the tune of millions of Naira. Lara and Dara find themselves homeless and penniless and have to rely on their talents to survive the storm.
In an alternate world, Lara and the Beat could be titled The Education of Lara Giwa as the film written by the trio of John-Arthur Ingram, Kay I. Jegede and Pearl Osibu starts out with scenes of Lara, flighty and spoilt rotten and then evolves into a something more relatable as she is becomes less selfish and more embracing of the world around her.
Because this is the movies, the love of a man must play a part in this evolution. And so Lara’s pursuit of a singing career- heralded by her more modest circumstances- leads her into the waiting arms of Mr Beats (Vector), a wannabe rapper and sometime chauffeur from the other side of town. Sparks fly and united by their shared ambition to succeed on the back of their talents, Lara and Mr Beat lean on each other to navigate industry sharks and their conflicted emotions.
Coker’s pictures speak the language of the young and getting it; all bright colors, sharp cinematography, the hunger of aspiration and thrill of romantic love. Doses of product placement litter the picture, plus adequate helpings of cheese abound, including a scene involving two lovers expressing their passions while fake rain falls.
Shay and Vector may not be the most capable of actors but their chemistry burns enough to make their union convincing. Mr Beat isn’t consistent as a character as the writers cannot quite decide if he should be a rich kid or a street guy. If the plot is inconsistent, doing too much yet too little at the same time, the screenplay is pretty straightforward as it gets from point A to point B to C, hitting expected marks but without for once rising above the plateau which arrives early in the picture. This is a limitation that burdens the film. The supporting cast is filled out by big names such as Chioma Akpotha, Uche Jombo-Rodriguez, Chinedu Ikedieze and Lala Akindoju and while they are all dependable, none of their characters has any life.
For all of its big money hype, Lara and the Beat isn’t particularly exciting and is unlikely to draw a passionate following. Although more accessible than Banana Island Ghost, Lara and the Beat however lacks the bite that made the BB Sasore directed film so memorable despite its (many) flaws. Lara and the Beat chooses to tell a familiar tale, wraps it up in dreamy pictures, beautiful people and top notch locales. Pleasant but hardly surprising.