Petty yet pretty – Divorce antics in Potato Potahto

By Wilfred Okiche

Nigeria’s OC Ukeje and Ghana’s Joselyn Dumas star in POTATO POTAHTO

Directed by Shirley Frimpong-Manso
Starring: OC Ukeje, Joselyn Dumas
3 out of 5 stars

Towards the end of POTATO POTAHTO, the cantankerous lead couple are arguing back and forth. They clearly cannot stand each other, but they also cannot let go. They yell, threaten, one tries to hit the other, doesn’t succeed, they yell some more, and then they kiss. This scene sums up the plot of Potato Potahto. And it reflects some of the bigger problems between men and women in the film industry.

The 38th edition of the Durban International Film Festival has been good for women. A woman-led film focus has resulted in not only talk shops and high profile industry panels, but in significant representation of women’s films both in front of and behind the camera. Four of the films screening in competition, including the opening film, the critically reviled horror Serpent, were directed by women.

On the other side of the fence, the out-of-competition screenings, the story isn’t so different. One of the hottest tickets in town is POTATO POTAHTO, the latest feature from the prolific Shirley Frimpong-Manso from Ghana.

Acclaimed for creating strong female characters and meaty roles for some of West Africa’s more talented actresses, Frimpong-Manso has, over the years, carved a niche for herself as perhaps the most prolific proponent of female-driven pictures in the region. It is only right that she would make her Durban film festival premiere in a year when women are in focus.

POTATO POTAHTO is a comedy of manners that reunites the star duo of Ghana’s Joselyn Dumas and Nigeria’s OC Ukeje following 2014’s Love or Something Like It, also directed by Frimpong-Manso. They play Lulu and Tony, a recently divorced couple who cannot quite agree on terms and opt, instead, to cohabit in their dream home, a splendid duplex in an upscale neighbourhood.

Anyone can tell from a mile away that this arrangement is a recipe for disaster. Anyone except the confused couple, who for reasons best known to them, choose to maintain this awkward arrangement only to torment and frustrate one another. Their antics range from the needlessly petty to the downright vicious and interference from Lulu’s mother (Joke Silva) plus a pair of bumbling mischief-makers isn’t enough to distract them from their war.

Despite a heavy theme – divorce – POTATO POTAHTO is about as lightweight as they come and arrives in Africa following a market screening earlier in the year at Cannes. A surefire crowdpleaser, it makes a welcome alternative to the heavy punch of many of the South African films at the festival. The film is powered by an attractive cast who do not necessarily stretch themselves beyond making faces and looking pretty.

Ukeje and Dumas reproduce their sexual chemistry and both appear to be having a swell time sparring back and forth. Silva, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Lala Akindoju and Chris Attoh round out the supporting cast, keeping with the Frimpong-Manso tradition of working with Ghanaian and Nigerian actors.

POTATO POTAHTO certainly remains pretty to look at, even when the screenplay begins to sag with repetition. The sets are colourful and costumes were designed to both grab attention and flatter the actors, particularly Dumas who is a designer’s dream to dress and Akindoju who flaunts legs that stretch from Accra to Ankara.

Frimpong-Manso’s direction is competent but uneven, plagued by a dialogue-heavy screenplay which does not carry as much verve as her previous comedy, Contract and lacks the bite of her best work. Her camera is steady, with generous close-ups and long takes. Music from up and coming Ghanaian artists helps to tighten the plot and provide agency.