Independent filmmaking is deemed by many as one of the better categories within cinema as it contains films forcefully leaning towards originality and authenticity. Many indie flicks are gritty dramas that are poignant and yield strong levels of empathy from the audience, and it has perhaps gotten to the point where they know what to expect from them.
Refreshingly, Going Bongo takes the indie genre in another direction. A comedy drama, which focuses on a very real, harsh situation in one of the least developed countries on the planet, and at the same time, examines it from an ill-informed, reluctant doctor’s perspective, essentially creating a situation comedy. Actor and writer Ernest Napoleon seemingly does not desire to make a typically funny film, he simply wishes to place the protagonist into a situation that would be in real-life, funny – and this balances the gritty darkness of the film very well; it actually makes Going Bongo somewhat innovative. It could arguably be a dark comedy moreso than a sit-com.
Dr. Berger (Ernest Napoleon) happily lands a job at the prestigious Beverly Hills medical centre in Los Angeles and is eager to impress his new superiors. After attending a Gala arranged by his superiors, he ‘mistakenly’ volunteers to go work in Africa for a month at an under resourced hospital. Leaving his fiancé, Marina (Ashley Olds), behind, the American Doctor heads out to Tanzania to follow through with his promise and help as many people as he can, whilst growing a close bond with fellow doctor, Laura (Emanuela Galliussi).
It is a good performance by Napoleon, who depicts the reluctant and afraid doctor well, particularly seeing as he is in almost every scene of the film. The acting across the board is wobbly in some parts, but that is what comes naturally with many indie films and there is no getting away from that – what matters is Napoleon’s performance, and it is good enough to allow him to anchor the film and lead from the front.
The script, like the collective acting performance, is precarious, but like points stated about the acting, specific scenes or moments of dialogue are not necessarily what the film bases itself on, nor whether it is constantly funny. Dr. Burger is in his comfort zone in Africa – despite the encompassing illness, death and sometimes misery in Tanzania – more so than he is in America, where he has the job of his dreams, a beautiful fiancé and a prosperous house/apartment, and this is what the film is truly about. Napoleon, who is part-African, also does well to extend the true, brutal message about Africa’s healthcare system without creating a violently explicit, sob-story.
The film was directed by Dean Matthew Ronalds, and like aforementioned, what is really good about Going Bongo is how the director, with scriptwriting help from Napoleon, finds the perfect balance between comedy and drama. It is not a hilarious film, there are occasionally funny moments, but again, like stated, it is not about the hilarity of it, it is about the drama that is taking place in Africa, and how a completely oblivious doctor has been thrown into the depths of it, thus creating a generally funny situation; similarly to sit-coms – simplistically, they are comedic situations, not out-out slapstick, thoughtless humour. At times, this well-found balance creates wonderfully heart-warming moments.
Overall, Going Bongo is not a hilarious film by any means; some aspects of its script are wobbly and the acting is, with respect to the much-loved genre, as expected. However, what makes the film appealing, in perhaps even a very lovely way, is that Napoleon, like many upcoming writers, could have written a script about anything in America today, but instead, he writes about Africa, where his genes stem from. He is maybe even attempting to enable audiences to realise the very serious situation that is taking place there and he conveys this message using the classic comedy drama genre this film tweaks and at the same time revolves itself around.