The Chief’s Daughter (Film Review: “Lionheart”)

A heartwarming generational story about a Nigerian family’s efforts to hold onto their transportation business, against all odds.

SnapShot Plot

Lionheart is an appealing, family-friendly film about the daughter of a Nigerian patriarch who is forced to take a sudden medical leave from the bus company, named Lionheart, which he built from scratch 30 years ago. His right hand man is actually his loyal and competent daughter, Adaeze (in an understated and naturalistic performance by Genevieve Nnaji). When the father, Chief Ernest, puts his brother – rather than her – temporarily in charge while he’s recuperating, she feels dejected but (in the name of family loyalty) tries to hide her feelings. Her uncle, Godswill (in a jovial performance by Nkem Owo) brings a decidedly off-the-cuff style to Lionheart’s operations, unlike Adaeze’s more restrained and cerebral approach to running the business. But when the auditor arrives to inform them that Lionheart is in deep financial trouble with a ticking doomsday clock to bankruptcy, the two quickly get on the same page to salvage their family’s reputation as well as the enterprise on which countless citizens in Southern Nigeria depend each day.

Parting Shot

Written, directed by and starring Genevieve Nnaji, Lionheart has been the subject of global entertainment news lately for its disqualification by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the category of Best Foreign Film. In fact, the movie is Nigeria’s first ever submission for an Oscar, and the reason for the disqualification has had critics and studios alike scratching their heads. Apparently the grounds for its dismissal were based on the fact that too much English was in the script of the movie, as opposed to the native tongue of Nigeria. The confounding thing, though, is that today, English is indeed the predominant language spoken in Nigeria; the film accurately reflects the way people speak in the country in which this story takes place. Alas, although this bizarre decision may have robbed the film from a proper participation in the global race for Oscar, the headlines have no doubt put Lionheart squarely on the map for a guaranteed wider worldwide streaming audience.

Like other films created by the lead character, Lionheart suffers (only slightly) by a vanity project syndrome in which secondary characters are never fully realized on the screen. And because the dialogue sounds at times ad libbed, those speakers might not be received with the same emotional weight that a more scripted experience would suggest. Still, the film is sufficiently light-hearted and sincere, illustrating a modern-day Nigerian culture that – although exotic by most measures – in fact reminds us of another, more famous father-daughter tale seen throughout the world. Of course, I’m talking about My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a movie about another patriarch passing the torch to a loving, single daughter, and her loyal but ambitious dreams for her own future. A universal story indeed, whether taking place at a sun-baked African bus company or a Greek diner in a frigid Chicago winter. Family is family.

Lionheart is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v45GprEyM7U

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