Pre-release, Yvonne Nelson described If Tomorrow Never Comes as an “epic” story and fair game to her because it is. On the surface, a story of separation filled with pain and despair for a young girl to contend with is indeed one we should call epic but the problem is it isn’t told or executed in a manner befitting an epic. This Pascal Amanfo film introduces a range of characters and settings ripe for dissection but the script cries out for depth. The straw that probably broke the camel’s back for this film is the peculiar narrative device Amanfo employs to tell this story.
If Tomorrow Never Comes opens in a media organization as news of the remarkable story of a girl, our protagonist filters in. A journalist tries to sell his editor on this seemingly miracle story but this smug editor is having none of it as he pseudo agnostically slams the story and makes known his thoughts on religion. Fast forward and our editor has had an inexplicable change of mind and is on his way to a presser where Ewurabena (Nelson) waits ready to tell her story to the world.
Ewurabena has had a painfully harsh life and an even more painful exacting journey that culminated in the conceit of scores of journalist sitting before her in what looks like the Ghanaian story of the decade. Ewurabena recounts the death of her mother at a young age which sparked the cloud of grief that enveloped her till present. Her mother’s death is followed by separation from her younger brother courtesy of conniving relatives and Ewurabena finds herself with her uncle played by David Dontoh and he cares nothing for her and soon leaves her in the hands of shrine priestess – a pleasant way of saying he simply sold her into slavery.
The film notably establishes a cynical world that has no patience for women as we see a premium is placed on her younger brother seeing as women are tools in this phallic society. The women are not only subject to the people around them but also more spiritual elements as Ewurabena and her sisterhood are to remain pure for the powers that be. She stumbles onto probably her first semblance of joy in a young man (Adeyemi Okanlawon) who fancies her but grief is alas around the corner as he leaves to the city in search of a better life leaving her with a pregnancy extremely testing surroundings.
This pregnancy provides us some veneer of a timeline and infuses stakes as our central character finds herself on the road moving from one grueling crucible to the next as this story of resilience continues. As the film proceeds there are constant cuts to the present day presser where Ewurabena speaks to journos. Ewurabena voice permeates though the entirety of the film in what appears to be a very deliberate creative decision – one the film tries to live by but ultimately dies by.
The scripts decision to have Nelson’s character in audience’s ears for the entirety of the film works on a very minute levels like early on when the early prologue sequences show a younger and contrite grief stricken Ewurabena come to terms with the harsh reality of her mother’s standing in society and later death. The narration fuses well with the scenes of a young Ewurbena (Ophelia Dzidzornu) conveying absolute angst and anguish in moments shot with great empathy and sincerity by Amanfo who manages to milk out a genuinely strong cameo performance out of this young actress.
Things however go wayward when the film progresses as the central character’s narration begins to convey a sense of redundancy or even outright laziness. The film becomes a dire lesson in telling and not showing even reaching lows of first person exposition and this becomes increasingly frustrating knowing the director has demonstrated snippets of cleverness. The film contains zero restraint with the narration and constant cuts to the present coming off as extremely distracting and even more cheesy seeing as Amanfo sees fit to give us close up reaction shots of sympathizing journalists to cap off this ultimately asinine conceit.
Something has to be said of the performances from the central cast which are sub-par and woefully unconvincing. Characters with her nice teeth and polished diction hardly fit in this harsh world Amanfo has created and Nelson in the pivotal role doesn’t seem as committed as she should be to this demanding and potentially complex character and the question has to be asked if she really followed some direction or was just winging it like in a church play. Nelson certainly looks the part and gets down in the grit for this role but I found and emotional connect difficult to pin point in the screenplay for what ultimately comes off us a surface showing.
The opening point still stands; this film has and epic story at its core but the tale and execution are not epic with a certain thespian and directorial gravitas missing from the cast. There is an underlining quality to Amanfo’s craft that suggest better things may lie in wait and he manages to introduce us a to an authentic world infused with realism and Ghanaian juju goth early on and he does deliver striking imagery but as the film limps towards the finish line you are left thinking of what this undeniably ambitious film could have been as creative streams run dry.