When your heart has been broken and betrayed, trust is no longer in your favour. Your world is now protected from the enriching experience of life, and the sadness that will definitely come from living one. Like living in a bubble; only its security would only make you isolate yourself and push people away slowly. This is the world that Been So Long is trying to unravel, the metamorphosis of gathering a piece of yourself in the midst of tests that life is throwing at you. Been So Long is a film directed by Tinge Krishnan and written by Ché Walker. Adapted from the musical of the same name, the film was picked up by Netflix in a multi-million dollar deal, believed to be Netflix’s biggest acquisition of a U.K. film in history.
Been So Long tells a story of Simone (Michaela Coel), a devoted single mother and Raymond (Arinze Kene), a man with a complicated past. Simone has just been swayed by her best friend Yvonne (Ronke Adekoluejo) to go hang out at a bar, when Raymond comes in. Yvonne approaches him first, yet Raymond’s eyes only wander to Simone. This is followed by a stunning R&B crooner called Primus Humanus (Man of Steel) where he courts Simone. The story untangles from there, with the internal problems of each character, giving all of them justice for their own issues to solve in the end, though imperfectly.
The musical is a genre that has been a challenge for every filmmaker, especially when it’s originated from the stage. Many have tried and failed, and many have tried and succeeded. That being said, it is not a crime for people to try their hands on adapting a stage musical to the screen. Been So Long bleeds with so much heart and ambition, that for a glance, it seems enough. Yet the film suffers from the rigidity that comes from adapting a stage musical. With its runtime (only an hour and forty minutes long) the film should be compact. However, there are several scenes that are unnecessarily thrown in just for the sake of one song. Even if it is crucial to the story, it is almost nonsensical to connect from one scene to another. There is no easy transition from songs to scenes, which is important for a musical to work. There are also unexplored scenes that are potent to the plot that we don’t know what to gain from it.
If it weren’t for Michaela Coel and Arinze Kene, along with the cast and the music; the film would be underwhelming. The chemistry of the two leads is so fervent and concrete, that it makes up for the way the film is handled. Another relationship to single out is between Michaela Coel and Ronke Adekoluejo‘s characters – they present Simone and Yvonne’s friendship as complicated, like any female friendship, but they give their roles the gritty baggage that only they can resolve. Arinze Kene infuses Raymond with both empathy and sympathy, which shows his complexity and asks us to decide whether to root for him or not.
All the cast lend their voices to the music, giving the film enough credit and authenticity for us as viewers to enjoy the film. Who knew Michaela Coel got pipes? You will, after watching this lovely film.
Evidently, Been So Long is an ambitious journey of letting go and moving on, of taking a leap, of keeping friendships, of starting fresh. Even though the film is often puzzling to appraise, Michaela Coel and Arinze Kene’s performances are enough of a reason this film gains its life and breathes easily.