Genre: Slice of Life/Drama/Comedy
Year Released: 2015
Distributor: PHB Films/FilmOne Distribution (streaming distribution via Netflix)
Running Time: 88 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Stand and Deliver, Julia and Julie, Freedom Writers, OT: Our Town
-Lunch Time Heroes is considered to be one of the first Nollywood family films.
-Director Seyi Babatope has also worked on films such as …When Love Happens, The Missing, and Countdown.
-It took sixteen days to film Lunch Time Heroes. All of the child actors were non-professionals and they became connected to this project through various churches in the Lagos area.
-Principal Williams, the harsh and very hard-nosed authority figure is played by Nigerian actress Dakore Akande. She is also an ambassador for charity organizations such as Oxfam and Amnesty International.
-Actress Diana Yekini who plays the main character Banke has been featured on the show Medium for two episodes.
For many readers who have been following Iridium Eye, one should know by now that I’m no stranger to international films. I really enjoy watching movies from all over the world. However, I do have to apologize because there’s one continent that has been largely ignored in my archives: Africa. The only African films I’ve reviewed so far were the short film Inja on the Art Of the Short Film compilation and Dreams of Dust. Even then, that South African short film and that Burkinabe feature-length film were co-produced by countries outside of that continent (that’s Australia for the former and France and Canada for the latter film). I feel like I’ve neglected my research as a film critic for so long. Besides, if one thinks that watching movies such as Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, Madagascar or The Lion King are enough to know about Africa, then please slap yourself. Those movies are just as African as Taco Bell is to Mexican cuisine or how Panda Express is to Chinese food. There needs to be a change going on at Iridium Eye, and I delved straight into my first exposure to the Nollywood scene.
Not Hollywood…Nollywood. I’m talking about the movie industry straight out of the country nicknamed the “Giant of Africa”, and that’s none other than Nigeria.
Lunch Time Heroes is about a temp worker named Banke Adewumi (pronounced Bahn-Kay Ah-Day-Woo-Mee) who is in Lagos. She finds a job at Excelsior Academy, which is a school full of rich kids in uniforms. Banke is in hostile territory as the principal gives her so much guff despite just starting out and she doesn’t get her own classroom on her first couple of days at the job. When she finally gets her own classroom, she’s greeted by students who are either lazy, meddlesome, or straight up apathetic. Banke tries her best to get the kids into learning something. In the meantime, Excelsior Academy is competing in a nationwide academic tournament where the students will be put to the test in basic subjects, but also a “skill set” challenge where it’s an extra category that involves the students doing something talented such as drama, music, etc. The winner of this tournament gets a huge grant, new computers, and a new school bus. Banke eventually gets the idea for the kids to try cooking much to the chagrin of Principal Williams, but they might be the only shot for Excelsior to win this coveted prize.
I was pleasantly entertained by this movie even though it was pretty simplistic. Banke is a very sympathetic character and her frustrations are totally believable in trying to be accepted as a legit teacher while also worrying about her work situation. One interesting character trait about her is that she bakes things whenever she’s really upset which she does not that long after being hired at Excelsior. I wanted her to succeed so much and to prove her haters wrong. Principal Williams is so fierce and ruthless in her job, she’d make characters like Principal Prickly from Recess and Principal Folsom from Fillmore kneel before her. Yes, she can be over-the-top, but she has a very commanding presence as she calls random emergency meetings, gives her employees crap, and caring way more about the academic competition than making her school feel like a fun place to learn. One dark horse character that I enjoyed was Vice Principal Goke. He has a stammering problem and gets taken advantage of by Williams, but he’s one of the few people who wants to see Excelsior succeed in both the competition and as a good school for the kids. Goke provides some good comic relief, and I really like how the humor doesn’t stem from his speech impediment which was a huge plus.
Part of me isn’t sure whether this was intentional or not, but I think Lunch Time Heroes destroys so many stereotypes about Nigeria let alone African culture. The plot is quite universal despite it’s simplistic approach and a situation like this could happen anywhere in the world with just a few minor changes. The setting is super modern and there’s not a single trace of huts, shacks, or crime-ridden areas to make this movie look like a UNICEF or World Vision infomercial. There’s more to Africa than just the impoverished parts, you know. Many of the characters have decent houses, smartphones, and nice clothes whether they were more Western or traditional. The biggest thing which I freaking loved about Lunch Time Heroes is that while it involves a “save our students” storyline, it subverts a HUGE unfortunate implication that is often coalescent with that trope. Because of the country it’s in and the ethnic groups who would normally be in Nigeria, Lunch Time Heroes averts the White Savior/White Man’s Burden subtext which is a huge relief. So many movies such as Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, Music of My Heart, the French film The Class and several other films are so reliant on that storyline that it’s insultingly cliche. Seeing competent Black teachers around like Banke even if it’s in an environment where it would be more commonplace is a godsend in cinema, and I give Seyi Babatope major props regardless if that was his intent or not.
While Lunch Time Heroes was a fun watch, I’m not going to lie to you by saying it’s the greatest movie of all time. Some of the plot points and twists were quite predictable like the subplot of Banke wanting to be transferred to another job in the country. I saw where it lead to almost immediately even though some parts were a surprise. Most of Banke’s students were underdeveloped with the exception of Hakeem. He was the only student with a backstory with his parents being way too busy with their jobs to pick him up from school and how his portable game player was “his only friend”. I wished they would’ve paced the classroom scenes earlier, so there would’ve been more time to flesh out what the class was like. On the visual side, it’s neorealistic which I appreciated, but I noticed some parts were out-of-focus like one of the talking scenes with Principal Williams and Banke. Most of the music was fine, but I found the insert song/ending theme “I Believe” by Capital Femi to be a mediocre Auto-Tune happy pop song as the singer tried to sound like a G-rated Jason Derulo.
Lunch Time Heroes is a lighthearted film, but I liked it more than most critics. Hey, in Iridium Eye, I’m certainly not going to agree with what the masses say all the time. The story is very easy to follow an there were some entertaining moments. I loved how this film shatters so many stereotypes associated with Africa and it could be a wake up call to viewers to show that not every part of that continent looks like a poverty porn montage. The characters are quite likable and I wanted the class to succeed. Yes, there are predictable parts in this film and it’s not that deep of a movie. Come on though, if Nickelodeon or Disney Channel made a movie like this, then people would eat it up without question. Most of the background music worked besides the main theme and it was competently filmed. Lunch Time Heroes may be a lighter film with a basic subject, but at least they handled most of it right. Feel free to check this Nigerian movie out on Netflix. You might be surprisingly entertained.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like Nollywood films.
Add 1-2 points if you prefer your movies to be more family-friendly.
Subtract 2 points if high-quality cinematography means everything to you.
Subtract 1-2 points if you can’t stand “save our students” movies.
-Obliterates negative preconceptions about African culture at large
-Likable main characters
-Some funny moments that were well-timed
-Predictable plot elements
-Mediocre ending theme song
-Some dips in production quality
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: Netflix gave Lunch Time Heroes a TV-PG rating, but I thought it was a bit excessive. The only objectionable things I can think of involve Banke with her friends and family drinking wine while celebrating and one family member drinks straight out of the bottle, but it was so brief. The other thing was Banke becoming so angry that she wanted to physically punish the kids, but that never happens. There’s no swearing, sexuality, or any adult subjects. Lunch Time Heroes is safe for the whole family.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Lunch Time Heroes is property of PHB Films and FilmOne Distribution. The film poster is from Wikipedia and is property of PHB Films and FilmOne Distribution.