Making its North American debut at the 2016 BlackStar Film Festival, Akin Omotoso’s Tell Me Sweet Something is a South African romantic comedy that delves into the lives of a group of friends from Johannesburg. Utilizing the basic tropes seen in many romantic comedies, the film stars Nomzamo Mbatha as Moratiwa, the film’s protagonist, and Masego “Maps” Maponyane as Nat Masilo, the object of desire. The film also features Thomas Gumede as Gordon, and Thishiwe Ziqubu as Tshaka. Both starring as the respective leads’ best friends, attempting to imbue their own versions of love and courtship upon the eventual couple.
As a former child-writer prodigy, Mbatha’s Moratiwa is dealing with an intense amount of writer’s block after experiencing rejection in her professional and social life: the realities of become a professional writer, and the abandonment of a former lover (he “left for milk, and never came back”). Now running her own bookstore, and attempting to make ends meet, she is goaded into a night out by her best friend Tshaka. During the outing, she meets South African male model Nat Masilo, played rather charmingly by Maponyane. And although the two hit it off, Moratiwa tends to harbor a somewhat stereotypical view of Nat’s intelligence: that as a male model, he’s not her intellectual equal. As the relationship culminates into a slow burn, Moratiwa soon finds herself falling for Nat’s charms and fun-loving attitude. Still reeling from the rejection of her former lover, Moratiwa continues to forge through with their relationsip. However, her doubts are only reinforced when Nat’s ex-girlfriend blindsides him with some rather unexpected news. Moratiwa soon finds herself struggling with not only her once dormant desire to begin writing, but the false hopes of a promising relationship.
Throughout the film, real life South African couples provide insights into their own experiences with courtship and love. Showcasing these older couples in contrast to the younger cast provides a context that allows the viewer to understand that the best relationships endure throughout the most difficult times. Each couple explaining the virtues and hardships that accompany their relationship adds an additional layer to the movie’s narrative. In addition, the film makes a conscious effort to showcase a group of upwardly mobile Africans. All too often, African movie narratives suffer from poverty porn when helmed by Western directors. South African director Akin Omotoso is blatantly making an effort to feature the trials and tribulations of a group of successful, young South Africans, attempting to make sense of it all: life, love, and the universal pursuit of happiness.
In all, Tell Me Sweet Something is a strong entry in the romantic comedy genre from Akin Omotoso. Utilizing universal themes, the film’s strength lies in its ability to weave a narrative that not only feels relatable, but honest.