Arts

Instant Dad: Captivating drama on fatherhood and grief

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Instant Dad follows Ricky, a bachelor/playboy living his best life, who suddenly one morning opens the door and finds that he has a daughter. PHOTO | POOL

Every time I see Brenda Wairimu, my mind immediately jumps to Sharifa, a character from the show Changing Times that aired a decade ago. The reason behind this connection lies in the exceptional portrayal, writing, and direction of the characters in that show.

Directed by Jennifer Gatero, whose track record showcases a talent for crafting character-centric narratives such as her short Granted or the Netflix crime movie Nairobby, which apart from the dynamic characters also reimagines the Kenyan crime genre.

Gatero's emphasis on character development and delivering intense dramatic sequences defines her style as is evident in her latest film, Instant Dad, which was recently added on Netflix.

Story

We’ve all been there, you are just chilling, living your best life and then boom! Something comes up and turns your life upside down. Instant Dad follows Ricky, a bachelor/playboy living his best life, who suddenly one morning opens the door and finds that he has a daughter. The movie follows the two as they try to figure each other out.

It's a very basic premise. Most of us have a friend or a friend of a friend who is just like Ricky or his friends. The movie tries to keep everything light with the upbeat music and the pacing that attempts to maintain a brisk pace which makes for what I consider to be an “easy watch”.

Read: The Fall of House of Usher: Series serves good dose of truly unsettling experience 

The goods

The narrative excels in maintaining focus on Blessing Lungaho and Hannah Wanjiku, the central characters. Both skillfully navigate the quieter and emotionally charged moments. Lungaho convincingly embodies the playboy persona and effectively portrays the complexities of a conflicted individual when faced with challenges. The performances across the board, from Ricky’s friends to his cousin, were commendable, but it was Ricky’s mother who stood out for me.

The film’s use of establishing shots, featuring stunning drone footage of Nairobi, alongside glimpses of rural settings and local spots like the pub, creates an authentic Kenyan ambience complemented by Kenyan music. Some moments, like the opening scene, showcase playful camera work, adding to the light tone of the film.

The director, also the writer, masterfully captures familiar Kenyan experiences and relatable characters, akin to people one might know. The story remains grounded and unfolds at a well-paced manner. Scenes linger appropriately when necessary, never overstaying their welcome. Notably, the movie flourishes in its third act, revealing deeper layers to Ricky's character, which adds a refreshing dimension to his narrative.

Nitpicks

Ricky's hair kept reminding me of Njugush's [of the Kawangware Househelp's fame] default hairstyle; I couldn't tell if it was intentional or just a slip-up considering the film focuses on him and we get a lot of close-ups of his head, I mean, even when he puts on his cap it’s still noticeable.

Although the cinematographer brilliantly captured many shots, there were times when certain rooms seemed clearly like sets. One of those was Ricky's home office where his daughter slept on the first night.

Apart from that, given that this is categorised as a comedy, I believed Ricky's house interior should have been more vibrant, akin to the bright ambience of Ricky's cousins' sitting room with its yellow seats and bright natural light.

Now, understanding the difficulties of producing a movie, especially in Kenya, I can empathise with the challenges the team might have or probably faced.

Yet, I feel that extending the film by 20 minutes could have provided a better exploration of Ricky's emotional turmoil following the revelation about the mother of his child, especially in light of his own history with tragedy.

Conclusion

There is more to this movie than a bachelor trying to be a father. At its core, there is an interesting exploration of two people from two different age groups trying to process grief.

While it might be categorised as a comedy, this movie has enough drama, heart, and emotions to keep you engaged on a much deeper level, especially in the second and third acts. Now that it’s available on Netflix, Instant Dad makes for an enjoyable choice for a relaxed Saturday or a laid-back Sunday afternoon.

Read: The Black Book: Entertaining, but flawed at its core

As a final random thought, I have always thought to myself, you know what would be an awesome movie, and not just a “Kenyan” movie. A suspense thriller, with Jennifer Gatero as the Director and Enos Olik as the Director of Photography, with Mumbi Maina, Raymond Ofula and Khula Budi somewhere as part of the cast. But as I said, a random thought and we all have them.

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X: @stanslausmanthi