Dineo is a romantic. Noni loves having a good time. The long-time best friends might not see eye to eye when it comes to long-term relationships, but brother-and-sister filmmaking duo Katleho and Rethabile Ramaphakela find the space to give both of the mismatched heroines a fresh, funny romantic comedy befitting their charms. The latest rom-com offering from Netflix — and yet another African pick-up from the streamer — leans into its genre bonafides, but isn’t beholden to them, unafraid to spice things up when the old playbook simply no longer works.
“Seriously Single,” the first feature from the Ramaphakela siblings, initially takes familiar shape, presenting a glossy Johannesburg as the next great rom-com setting (New York City, you’ve owned this one for a smidge too long), complete with all sorts of sexy, silly love stories. Dineo (Fulu Mugovhani) is a serial monogamist, prone to oversharing her latest boyfriends to the point of smothering obliteration (she actually works in social media by trade, all the better to fuel her furious desire to document and post about everything around her).
Dumped often and hard — we first meet Dineo when she’s being jilted on Valentine’s Day, on a livestream, at her place of business — Dineo doesn’t let her latest heartbreak get her down, pitching herself back into the dating pool with gusto. Dineo’s desire for a long-term relationship doesn’t at all appeal to her best friend Noni (the very funny Tumi Morake), who has made it her business to have plenty of fun with the opposite sex and never, ever settle down with one of them. Just as Dineo’s love life hits the skids (again), Noni’s takes an unexpected turn, as charming bartender Max (Yonda Thomas) attempts to turn their one-night stand into something more lasting.
Such glossy set-ups are the bread and butter of the genre, and the Ramaphakelas only further pump up the film’s luster with stunning shots of Joburg, a dizzying array of nights out on the town, and a never-ending parade of lush costuming choices for the film’s leading ladies. Yet even as Dineo and Noni stumble (adorably, of course) through a series of romantic travails, Lwazi Mvusi’s script angles it away from traditional plotting. At some point between the pair discovering the bachelor party of Dineo’s latest paramour (Bohang Moeko) and Noni ticking off her rules for living (all oriented around sex), “Seriously Single” transforms from a shallow exploration of modern love to a much deeper story about the power of female friendship.
As Dineo and Noni fumble their way toward their very different romantic ideals, “Seriously Single” becomes less concerned with matching up the ladies with dudes of their choice, but instead focusing on the special relationship they already have with each other. While this clever twist doesn’t really take root until far into the film’s second half, it’s winning and warm enough to add emotional heft to the film’s often oft-kilter finale. Rife with surprises and awkward situations, by redirecting the heart of the film toward Dineo and Noni, “Seriously Single” offers a fresh twist on old tropes, with plenty of affection for its predecessors.
Made on location by an African cast and crew, “Seriously Single” will easily appeal to both South African audiences and far-flung viewers from around the globe. Told in a variety of languages, including Xhosa, Zulu, English, Afrikaans, and Pedi, among others (the country has 11 official languages), the Ramaphakelas don’t obscure the film’s roots, and neither do its endearing stars. For fans the genre, it’s a pleasing new entry — one that should hopefully remind audiences of the power of its charms, from talented stars to an uncanny ability to make any kind of love story feel (seriously) worthy of exploration.
“Seriously Single” will be available to stream on Netflix on Friday, July 31.