The South African comedy film industry has existed for some time. When I was six years old, I recall seriously enjoying Schuster’s “Panic Mechanic” to the extent that I was shocked that my cousins in Lebanon hadn’t heard of it. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps I was being too gracious but at the time, I thought it a funny film. Since then, the only cult SA films that have caused me to pause for laughter have been Straight Outta Benoni (who didn’t love that “Stop frowing me with couscous!” line?) and Poena is Koning with the infamous vok sokker scene. All those films have have come about 15 years apart making the industry relatively “meh” but 2016 seems to have changed that.
Earlier this year, I watched Kagiso Lediga’s Wonderboy for President film and some jokes stick with me yet! Last night, however, I was exposed to what is probably my favourite South African film of the century thus far; Jonathan.
KovsieFM graciously gave me tickets to the premier of Rikus de Beer’s film as he brings his most famous character, Jonathan van die Oosrand, to the big screen. Expectations weren’t high. We’d already had a good local comedy film this year so it’s not like we should be due for another for about five more years. Though the RadioRaps videos where I first learned of Jono are exceptionally hilarious. I knew I’d be in for a couple of laughs but more than that I thought the film would rely on cheap humour. It had had become somewhat of a norm locally.
As the movie progressed and we got more and more of the signature “lekker boys”, “nkay” and “L’rite” the jokes had me me in stitches. Often we get away with rehashing jokes because the audience’s exposure to overseas content is limited and when you package them in a new language, it seems like a joke is original. The Jonathan movie seems to avoid that and the only recognizable line I found (“don’t point at me, I’ll disappoint you”) I interpreted as intentional to give an indication of how predictable the character saying the line was. The rest of it was completely new material to me…which, to somebody as traveled in comedy as I, is a big deal.
The screenplay is also enjoyably organic. Of course there’s a girl to be impressed. Of course there’s an antagonist who stands in the way. Of course there’re issues of family support. You’re going to get that anywhere but the content and development of each of those pieces is uniquely South African and immediately relatable.
Jonathan’s family kick him out of the house, when he doesn’t get his life together, in an effort to compel him to get it together so he gets a job. Granted while not all of us have turned to the car guard vocation, most can relate, in a distinctive Mzanzi manner, to the expectations of a the nucleic family. When he wins the lotto, cool things happen. It’s not a spoiler because all that can be gauged from the trailer:
The spoiler I will offer is that you need to watch the movie, if for nothing else, to see the standard running-jump-fuck-slap. As for the language barrier, the movie is almost entirely in Afrikaans but this is hardly #problematic because even with my matric B in Afrikaans Second Language, I was able to follow the dialogue and if I were to get lost, there were well timed subtitled to help one along. Either way, the humour goes beyond the dialogue and permeates through the acting.
While the film is great, and indeed a must see when it releases on 2 December, there are a few things which might leave you disappointed. For example, the Lebanese community will certainly not be happy with the absence of this “Toni the Leb” guy despite his mention multiple times. Other disappointments include…nope, sorry. I can’t think of any more.
What I will say is that the acting is great. Sure, comedy acting is probably easier than drama but I’ve gotten so used to a couple of good actors carrying a bunch of mediocre ones in our movies that to see a full contingent of great acting in this film feels rather redeeming.
Being earnest, I expect the local comedy scene to be exceptionally proud of itself for releasing two great comedy movies this year (I wonder if John Vlismis being in both has anything to do with it).
Jonathan has set a new standard in our comedy but also opened the doors to broader jokes, new actors and actresses and should signal a start for South African comedy films to be taken more seriously abroad.
When you get a chance, watch this film. Even if you’re not into Afrikaans, even if you’re not into SA comedy. This film will challenge you to change your mind and watching it may even mean you’re watching the start of something unexpectedly big about to hit the local scene.
I’ve never rated a film and it’s not something we usually do at Milled but this shouldn’t be seen as a film review. This is rather a review of where we see the industry as a result of this film…and it’s exciting. If I were to give this film a star rating, you’d have no reference point because I’ve never given a star rating before so put it this way…
I give this movie the exact amount of stars that it will take to get you into the theater and watch the SA comedy film industry rise…plus one more star because of the running-jump-fuck-slap.