Review: ‘Rag Tag’

Adaora Nwandu's first feature "Rag Tag" is a rough-hewn but likeable seriocomedy very much in the "My Beautiful Laundrette" mode, weaving together -- albeit less skillfully -- various business and personal intrigues including a gay male romance in multicultural London. Emphasis on the Nigerian expat community there provides a fresh angle, and character dynamics are entertaining despite erratic writing, directing and production values.

Adaora Nwandu’s first feature “Rag Tag” is a rough-hewn but likeable seriocomedy very much in the “My Beautiful Laundrette” mode, weaving together — albeit less skillfully — various business and personal intrigues including a gay male romance in multicultural London. Emphasis on the Nigerian expat community there provides a fresh angle, and character dynamics are entertaining despite erratic writing, directing and production values. Outside the fest circuit, prospects are best for DVD release in gay markets.

Forcibly separated as children when social services relocated West Indian-English Raymond aka Rag (Danny Parsons) well away from his neglectful parent, Rag and Nigerian-English Tagbo aka Tag (Damola Adelaja) are reunited a decade later. Rag’s jobless, a school dropout, has an ambiguous relationship with a former g.f. and child up north, and may have gotten in the odd criminal scrape, while Tag is a law-school graduate now applying to top-rank firms.

Nonetheless, after an awkward initial moment it’s clear the two young men remain simpatico on some deeper plane. This renewed friendship meets with even less approval from Tag’s conservative, Bible-verse-spouting father (Geoff Aymer) than he has for his son’s white socialist girlfriend Olivia (Tasmin Clarke).

When they’re together, Rag and Tag seem oblivious to what anyone else thinks, and jealous of each others’ outside obligations. The physical love these behaviors suggest stays suppressed, however, until after the two are sent by a wealthy businessman to Nigeria on some vaguely shady business that affords plenty of time to frolic.

Upon returning the duo seems emotionally ready to make a commitment, but the obstacles faced — money, religion, girlfriends, parents, et al. — are considerable.

Central relationship and lead perfs are nicely handled, but “Rag Tag” is spotty in nearly every other department. There are too many narrative gaps, underdeveloped subsidiary threads, and explosive walk-outs with fallout that lasts for all of five minutes. Also, staging is pedestrian at best, even given its low budget, and supporting perfs range from confident to hammy to stilted and amateur.

If “Rag Tag” feels undercooked, it’s still a stew of intriguing ingredients, enough such to hold the attention and suggest Nwandu as a coming talent. Tech aspects are fair, various artists soundtrack is lively. Heavy accents (both English and Nigerian) make some dialogue difficult to decipher.

Rag Tag

U.K.-Nigeria

Production

A Muka Flicks production. Produced by Adaora Nwandu, Uzoamaka Nwandu. Executive producers, Faruk Lasaki, Chris Madubuko. Co-producers, Arinze Nwandu, Donald Nwandu. Directed, written by Adaora Nwandu.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Kalilah Robinson, Segun Oladimeji; editor, Andy Hague; music, Kyan Laslett O'Brien, Jack Molder, Tamara Douglas-Morris; music supervisors, Heather Andrews, O'Brien, Molder; production designer, Dan Tan; art director, Mendeni Griffiths; costume designer, Amaka Mbadiwe; sound, Andrews; assistant director, Tan; casting, Adaeze Oraedu. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 19, 2006. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Danny Parsons, Damola Adelaja, Tasmin Clarke, Geoff Aymer, Maria Adeioye, Chuma Oraedu, Olivette Cole-Wilson.
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