Unfortunately that’s where the accolades end. For a musical film, Been So Long is not very musical at all, with a discordant soundtrack that sounds like castoff 90s R&B and vocalists not up to the task of meeting the melodies.
There’s very little you could say to dissuade me from rooting for a musical romantic film. Add black leads and a London setting and I’m ready to go all in. But while Been So Long tries very hard to be everything to everyone as Netflix’s newest outing, its musical aspects undermine all the points in its favour by frankly, not being very good.
First, the pros: Michaela Cole and Arinzé Kene as Simone and Raymond are excellent at selling the film’s central love story. The chemistry between them is palpable but also immediately recognisable as the glowing embers of a new romance. Their relationship through the film simmers quietly and steadily and the way the two look at each other is searing enough to launch a thousand tabloid rumours. Their sweet banter is sharp and teasing; their getting to know yous are believable as two people coming from difficult situations and struggling to find love. They are also incredibly aesthetically pleasing to look at as a couple. Kene is gorgeous in that devil-may-care way that girls know warns of a bad boy, and Cole’s close cut highlights her stunning cheekbones and gorgeous long neck. And it can’t be overstated how refreshing it is to have a romantic film wherein the object of affection is a dark-skinned black woman. It is rare enough to be notable and wonderful to see treated well and seriously without turning the narrative on any perceived insecurities about her looks. Michaela is framed and lit to be absolutely glowing in nearly every scene and it wonderful to watch.
Ronke Adekoluejo as Yvonne is also a treat, with an insatiable sexual appetite and a verve for colour and excitement that is refreshing to see in a dark-skinned black girl. Yvonne is loud in both volume and visuals. Her bright wigs are her signature and her vulgarity makes her delightful. She’s an enjoyable foil to Cole’s Simone, who is reticent to do anything more than take care of her special needs daughter.
But unfortunately that’s where the accolades end. For a musical film, Been So Long is not very musical at all, with a discordant soundtrack that sounds like castoff 90s R&B and vocalists not up to the task of meeting the melodies. The vocals throughout are mediocre at best and several times undermine otherwise touching moments. There are also no standout tracks, and every good musical needs at least one. With the exception of “I Want A Fella,” a particularly delightful and explicit number by Yvonne, the music here is not just bad, but forgettable; all told a much greater sin.
Additionally, the film is entirely too long and should have cut at least 20 minutes of its runtime. A more compact story would have mitigated the deadening narrative lull at its center as it tried to incorporate inexplicable side plots with no bearing on the advertised romance. Curiously enough, the one character who should have been left on the cutting floor (George MacKay’s Gil) is played by the only actor with a voice decent enough to even sniff in the direction of a genuine musical performance.
The story is also poorly paced with musical numbers appearing at moments that seemed contrary to the film’s own momentum. Largely the numbers seem unrelated to each other and don’t tend to share a true narrative theme. Aside from the two leads, the film doesn’t even pretend to develop any of its supporting characters, which might have been fine if they hadn’t been given so much screen time.
The premise of Been So Long is interesting and by virtue of being set in a less clichéd location about less clichéd characters it immediately has a hook that should carry it over the finish line. Ironically it’s the attempt the distinguish itself too much with music that sinks it. The film would have worked much, much better as a straight romantic comedy without all the extra baggage of making musical moments out of things like phone calls from probation officers. While the acting performances are strong across the board, they are undercut at every turn by eye-roll worthy musical numbers that drip with cheese and over-sincerity. One would think these factors would work in a musical’s favour, but it turns out that when it comes to earnestness, the limit does in fact exist.