Mental health issues have been receiving a lot of attention in the Nigerian media recently but much of the talk has been focused on depression and rightly so. In Loving Daniella, Ike Nnaebue used a rare mental health condition as the backdrop of the story to evoke a stellar performance from Royal Arts Academy graduate Theresa Edem.
Daniella is a beautiful lady in her twenties with a borderline mental condition that makes her behave like a 7-year old sometimes. Her best friend is a child, she loves to play with toys, and fun for her include playing hide and seek with a love interest or shooting water guns.
A temporary breakup with a love interest, Efe (played by the always brilliant Blossom Chukwujekwu), who is being put off by her condition triggers an emotional breakdown and she becomes suicidal. This new development worries everyone. Her parents feel she is not getting adequate treatment from her doctor, Dr. Jones, who has overseen her case since she was seven. So, they fly her to Antigua to see a renowned, highly-recommended psychologist.
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There are many firsts for me in this movie; it is the first Ike Nnaebue’s movie I will be seeing and it is also the first time I will be watching Theresa Edem in a feature movie. I am impressed by both, although more by the latter.
Nnaebue was particular about his shots here. His use for wide shots during the scenes on the beach in Antigua produced a visual delight perfect for a drama cum romantic comedy. These shots captured the beauty of the beach and make the viewers want to go on a baecation. In the emotional scenes featuring Theresa Edem’s Daniella, the director opteds for close-up shots which bring out the vulnerability, hopelessness, and sadness Edem’s character is trying to show.
On Theresa Edem’s performance, you see an actor showing off her range effortlessly. Whether Edem is being asked to play cute, childish or childlike Daniella or confused, frustrated adult Daniella, she throws herself into the role eliciting laughs, oohs and ahhs, and pity from the viewer. It is a stellar performance. And Blossom Chukwujekwu, who plays Efe, is no slouch either here. At this point, it is hard to tell if this guy can’t kill his roles; it does not matter if the script is bad, good, or brilliant, Chukwujekwu will interpret it and deliver.
The supporting cast didn’t come to play either, with each person from Jide Kosoko, who played Daniella’s Dad, to Rachel Oniga delivering. Oniga appeared in two scenes; the first is surely the most entertaining scene of the movie and arguably one of the best scenes in the entire film and that says a lot, considering Loving Daniella offers several brilliant scenes. And that’s a credit to Nnaebue whose writing and directing merge seamlessly to produce a drama with a lot of romance, laughter, and emotional moments to keep things going smoothly.
Everything works so well from the start until the end, which leaves you confused: you ask yourself: is it the same person that penned the entire movie or someone else wrote the conclusion? Because nothing builds up to some moments in the film’s final act. It is rushed and for a movie that did not cross the 2-hour mark, one wonders why Nnaebue did not take his time to wrap up this visually delighting assembly of brilliant performances called Loving Daniella. Why?