REAL, the title for Aki Omoshaybi’s directorial debut, has been styled in capital letters, but it’s about the only thing that seems larger-than-life in this lean and low-key love story. Omoshaybi is a British-Nigerian actor who had small roles in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Riot Club, but here he takes the lead in his own first feature, which he also scripted.
Set in Portsmouth, he plays Kyle, who early in the film meets Jamie (Pippa Bennett-Warner), offering to pay for her goods in a shop when she hasn’t quite got the right money. He charms her, angling for a date, and tells her he’s a solicitor (she even takes his number in her phone, listing him as ‘Mr. Solicitor’). He sure looks the part, dressed in a suit, but REAL is about truth and fiction and pretending to be something you’re not.
Gradually, it becomes clear that Kyle is not who he says he is, but neither is Jamie. She’s a single mother who works in a supermarket, but is studying to be an accountant. In her past are problems that still haunt her and the same can be said for Kyle. On their first date, he gets a call and has to leave urgently; we cut to him performing a menial clean-up job – a punishment that suggests he’s been in trouble with the law.
Omoshaybi, who is a charismatic and magnetic-looking performer, doesn’t offer up information easily in REAL. We sense Kyle’s carrying pain from the past, but the film takes a long time before it offers explanations. The interest here is whether a relationship can survive both parties telling lies to disguise their emotional baggage, and whether people deserve to be cut some slack.
Running at 77 minutes, REAL does creak at times under the strain of its low budget, with certain plot-strands left under-developed. In particular, the abrupt ending comes as a surprise. It’s rare to say that you’re left with wanting more from a film, but thanks to the two engaging lead performances, REAL feels like it had further room to explore these characters. As debuts go, it’s hugely promising.
REAL is in cinemas and available on digital. For more details, click here.