Brief synopsis: A self-improvement embracing book shop manager’s life is thrown into confusion when the daughter of the bookshop’s late owner turns up in the store and informs her that it is closing and all the staff will be let go.
The woman is set on taking a trip to reevaluate her life but postpones the trip when her cousin asks her to look after her eleven-year-old daughter because she is going through a divorce.
Is it any good?: A Nollywood film, Just In Time is a pleasant enough, made-for-television level, rom-com that is not too taxing or offensive. Not a great film, the story a bit too messy. The acting is good and engaging for a brain in neutral ninety-minute watch.
Spoiler territory: Muthoni (Sarah Hassan) sits on her sofa listening to a life coach who is encouraging viewers of his videos to destroy their goals. A little while later, she is heading to work at the bookstore she manages.
Elsewhere, Ashley (Stycie Waweru) is looking forward to her family holiday. Next door her mother, Nieri (Pierra Makena), is talking to her husband. They are getting divorced and she does not want to join him, with Ashley, for a holiday. He tries to coerce her into meeting up with him, telling her he has already purchased the tickets.
Njeri tells him that they are not meeting up. Ashley comes into the room as her mother is ending the call. She hears the tail end of the conversation and asks if they are not going on holiday. Her mother tells her the trip is cancelled but lies about the reason, telling Ashley her father is on a work trip.
Back at the bookstore, Muthoni is helping a customer and stops a young boy from stealing a book, shooing him out of the store. A moment later a woman calls to her, addressing her by her full name. She asks if she is the manager. Muthoni tells her she is.
The woman introduces herself, Aditi (Eve D’Souza) and points to a man just behind her. He is an interior designer and is there to remodel the store. Aditi tells Muthoni that she is the daughter of the store owner. Muthoni offers her condolences, Aditi’s father having died. Aditi explains that she has returned to Nairobi to help her brothers get the family affairs in order. That includes the bookstore.
They have decided to close the bookstore. Muthoni is to clear the store with immediate effect. The family are turning it into a spa. She tells Muthoni that she can have a position in the new set up because her father held her in high regard. Muthoni argues against closing the store but is told it is not up for debate. She declines the offer of a role in the spa.
Muthoni breaks the bad news to her two-man staff. The next day, Muthoni is speaking to her brother, Brian (Kagwe Mungai), on a video call, bemoaning her lack of life progress as she approaches thirty.
Brian suggests she come to Canada and start a new life. She does not think that is a good idea, she wants to stay in Nairobi. He asks her if she has spoken to their cousin, Njeri. The question irritates Muthoni as he knows they have not spoken in years. Brian ends the call.
The next morning, Muthoni is woken by a call from an event she signed up for, a workshop about empowering women. Muthoni asks if she can get a refund and is told she cannot. she attends the seminar. At there seminar, the talker tells how, when at her lowest point, she decided to take a holiday to Dubai.
Muthoni returns home and looks to buy a ticket to Dubai. As she is about to book it, she gets a call from Njeri. The conversation is awkward, Muthoni mistakenly thinking Njeri has rung her out of pity, Brian had told her about the bookstore being closed. Njeri is not calling about her job. She needs her help.
She tells her she is getting a divorce and needs her to look after Ashley for a couple of weeks. Muthoni wrestles with the notion of refusing her request over the next day. She is woken by her neighbour, Anthony (Blessing Lung’ Aho), ringing her doorbell.
He has a friend coming to stay in his apartment but he is going away for work. He wants to leave the keys to his apartment with her for his friend, Kobena (Mawuli Gavor), to pick up. Muthoni is happy to help and takes the keys.
Ashley is protesting her mother’s decision to leave her with a stranger. Njeri explains that she is her auntie. Ashley argues semantics but her mother tells her to go and have a shower. Muthoni goes into town to get her resumé printed. She leaves the keys to Anthony’s apartment in the printing store.
Returning home, Muthoni meets her young cousin. Ashley is less than impressed by a smiling but total stranger, cousin. Muthoni runs through some house rules that she has typed up. Ashley tells her she can just give her the paper. She will read them. She wants to go to her room. Muthoni tells her that there is only one bedroom, they will have to share.
The doorbell rings. Kobena has come to collect the keys that Anthony left. After making him show her identification, Muthoni leaves him on the doorstep as she goes to search for the keys. She realises that she has misplaced the keys. She allows Anthony to come into her apartment and wait whilst she tries to locate them.
Searching her car, Muthoni remembers she went to the print store. In the apartment, a tired Kobena falls asleep on the sofa. Muthoni returns shortly to find him sleeping and shushes Ashley as she comes into the living room, indicating the sleeping Kobena.
Hours later, Kobena is still sleeping. Ashley wants to wake him up but Muthoni feels it is her fault for not having had the keys. She sends Ashley to bed. Muthoni tries to gently wake him. She eventually wakes him by making a loud noise.
An embarrassed Kobena apologises for having fallen asleep. She gives him the keys and he leaves. Muthoni goes to the bedroom and finds Ashley sprawled across the bed. After trying to move her and getting slapped by the sleeping child fro her troubles, Muthoni decamps to the live room sofa.
The next morning, Muthoni tells Ashley that she can have the bed as she will take the sofa. Ashley asks about wifi and Muthoni wants to know why she needs wifi. She tells her it is for Netflix and that they use iPads at school. Muthoni rants that technology is what is ruining the world. Ashley points out that her pancakes are burning.
Muthoni finishes cooking pancakes for breakfast. Ashley tells her she does not like them. Muthoni takes the pancakes to her new temporary neighbour, Kobena. She apologises for the mix-up. Returning to her apartment, she finds Ashley on her iPad watching a movie. She thought she was going to read a book? Ashley tells her she cannot as the wifi is so poor.
Muthoni suggests they talk. She asks her what her purpose is. Ashley is perplexed. Muthoni asks the question differently; what is her favourite thing in the world? Ashley tells her, watching movies. Later, Ashley complains to her mother that it is boring and the wifi is too slow.
Muthoni texts her brother for advice. He suggests taking her out and asking where she would like to go. She asks Ashley where she would like to go. Ashley wants to go to an ice cream parlour. The next day, as they get ready to go to the ice cream parlour, Kobena comes to talk to Muthoni and return the plate the pancakes were on.
Ashley opens the door. Kobena smiles at her and asks for Muthoni, saying he has brought back the plate. Ashley does not smile back. She takes the plate and shuts the door in his face. Muthoni takes Ashley to the ice cream parlour.
Muthoni gets a call from Kobena. He wants to buy lunch for her as a thank you for the pancakes. Muthoni says she is with her niece. Kobena tells her he will buy lunch for both of them. He comes and finds them in the city. Ashley is not happy to see him. Muthoni and Kobena chat, her asking him about his camera.
Kobena tells her he is a photographer. Muthoni gets a call and leaves the table. Kobena begins to talk to Ashley but she stops him, telling him they do not have to chat. Muthoni’s call is from Aditi. She wants her to come to her home for a meeting the next day. Muthoni agrees but realises she will need someone to look after Ashley.
Ashley argues against it but, even though they speak Swahili, Kobena realises that is the issue. He agrees to look after her. Later, in the evening, Ashley asks why Muthoni never visits them. Muthoni tells her it is complicated. Muthoni tells Ashley about her love of books and storytelling. She recounts a bedtime story to her.
The next day, Muthoni waits for Aditi in her living room. Back at the apartment, Ashley is in the bedroom away from the Kobena. She comes into the living room to admonish him for the loudness of his music. He tries to make peace by offering to buy her pizza. Ashley thinks it is just a bribe so as he can look good to Muthoni.
She softens a bit when he tells her she can pick where they order from. After lunch, the two play a game. If Kobena wins, Ashley has to do chores. If Ashley wins, he must read her a bedtime story.
At Aditi’s, Muthoni is eventually seen. Aditi tells her that she is the secret buyer of the bookstore and wants to save it, even though her brothers want it closed. She wants to hear Muthoni’s ideas to keep the business going.
Back in the apartment, Kobena has lost the game and has to read to Ashley. He does not like reading because he is dyslexic and tells Ashley so. He explains the affliction to her and tells her he has lived with it all his life. Ashley reads to him instead.
Muthoni returns home to find Ashley sleeping on Kobena. He takes her to bed. Muthoni and Kobena chat about how difficult it was to get Ashley to warm to them. Muthoni tells him about Ashley’s parents’ situation. He invites them out on his photo tour.
The three go out, Kobena working whilst the two women enjoy the safari. Back home, Muthoni is surprised by a visit from Njeri. They get into a disagreement when Njeri tells her that she is moving to Mombasa but lies to Ashley, telling her that they are going on holiday to Zanzibar. Njeri leaves with Ashley.
Muthoni meets up with Kobena. She tells him about growing up with Njeri and how she disagreed with her relationship and did not think her future husband was a good man. Kobena tells her that he has to travel. He wants to go on a date with her before he leaves.
Back home, Muthoni works on a children’s book idea for Aditi. The next day, Kobena waits for Muthoni at their appointed meeting place. Muthoni goes to see her cousin but sees her estranged husband instead. He tells her that they have left. He wants Muthoni to help him get them back. She refuses. Kobena is still waiting. Muthoni stands him up.
Muthoni goes home and calls her brother. She tells him that she thinks her book idea will work. There is someone at her door. She opens the door and sees Ashley. Njeri is with her. Njeri asks her to join them on a trip. They are going to stay in Nairobi. The three go on a trip.
Months later, they are preparing to celebrate Ashley’s twelfth birthday. Muthoni and Brian arrive at the house and find Njeri in the dining room. Muthoni asks where Ashley is, Njeri tells her she can find her in her bedroom. As Muthoni heads to the bedroom, Ashley appears from under the dining room table, where she had been hiding
In the bedroom, Kobena is waiting. He asks her if she stopped thinking about him and tells her he always thinks about her. She also owes him a date. She tells him she was scared. They join the birthday party. The end.
Final thoughts: Written and directed by Dolapo Adeleke, Just In Time is an okay romcom. Hassan, who also produced the film, is a likeable lead and her chemistry with Gavor’s Kobena is good. Young Waweru is great as the precocious Ashley and works well given the paucity of the role.
The film is pleasant and the characters engaging but the story does not quite hold together. It is not a bad story but the central premise is somewhat fuzzy. It is difficult to know if the film is a rom-com or coming-of-age story predominantly, with neither given a fully fleshed out story.
The book store angle is only in the film to lengthen the runtime and does not add anything to the film. The same can be said of the positive thinking aspects, the positive thinking coach only in the film for weak comic effect.
At ninety-minutes long, Just In Time is the perfect length for a romcom. There is a delightful soundtrack and the film is well shot. Unfortunately, Adeleke’s inability to bring the romcom to the fore is the real weakness of the film. Not terrible but not good either.