Devon Thomas23 February 2024 | 15:54

'Forever Yena': A shallowly wasted romantic opportunity

Despite having all the ingredients needed for a delicious rom-com, Showmax’s ‘Forever Yena’, like a random midweek Grindr hookup, fails in the fundamental principles required to make it anything other than a shallow experience.

'Forever Yena': A shallowly wasted romantic opportunity

Aluve Mjali (L) and Thandi Make (R) in Showmax's 'Forever Yena'. Picture: Supplied


Contains no major spoilers.

Romantic comedies (rom-coms) are deceptively simple to make. Unlike many other genres and subgenres in film, they typically have a very distinctive narrative structure to them.

When the protagonist is single, it’s likely to centre around a woman placed in an unfamiliar situation or backdrop - usually the inciting incident - who meets a man, starts to fall in love with him, a conflict arises just as she realises she's madly in love – usually brought on by the man – it is resolved, and they live happily ever after – at least until the sequel.

When the protagonist already has a partner, it starts with them being in a great space to build character and familiarise the viewer with their relationship dynamic, an inciting incident occurs that shakes it up or unearths its crack, this leads to a breakup or separation – the conflict - but they realise how much they love each other, the conflict is resolved, and they live happily ever after with their relationship now stronger than ever.


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In outliers, the protagonist realises she is a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man in the former or  where the couple breaks up in the latter.

In either situation, there is not a lot of legroom for innovation because to its core, love in a rom-com needs to prevail, either through the self or through the couple.

It’s all very predictable – and I love it. A lot of the time they’re corny as hell, but a lot of the time they’re mad entertaining, Especially if they’re objectively bad.

However, that is why it is so difficult to make a good rom-com. The formula is so simple and distinct that it is very easy to mess it up.

Coupled with consumer fatigue, perhaps this is why the rom-com basically died out after its huge boom in the late '90s and early 2000s because there are only so many times people will be willing to watch what is essentially the same movie with a slight change of clothing.

Interestingly enough, though, they seem to be making somewhat of a resurgence, where the emphasis is not on trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather to finetune it.

That, girlies, is exactly what Forever Yena tried to do. Formula-wise, it follows the couples rom-com version almost to a tee but adds in the impact of social media and the induction of the influencer, which lays a solid foundation for a simple and (potentially) effective twist on it.

In Forever Yena, Kwanda (Aluve Mjali) and Penny (Thandi Make), a couple who gained widespread popularity online through their joint channel on an Instagram/YouTube hybrid app, accidentally broadcast a fight they had on live, threatening their relationship and, more interestingly, their idealistic brand image.

The setup is not groundbreaking, but it does add an interesting twist, especially because they had just scored a major brand deal with the Tinder-esque app they met on, which, mind you, has a clause in the contract that states they’d be breaching it should they break up.

As such, the setup has everything it would need to at least be an entertaining watch: a really hot couple with actual chemistry, an inciting incident that creates massive (potentially life-altering) stakes, and a simple twist that modernises the formula for the contemporary audience. 

It is almost foolproof, so how did Forever Yena fair?

Thandi Make (L) and Aluve Mjali (R) in Showmax's 'Forever Yena'. Picture: Supplied

Thandi Make (L) and Aluve Mjali (R) in Showmax's 'Forever Yena'. Picture: Supplied

The short answer? Pretty well - at least for the first act. Apart from the first few minutes of the movie – which honestly felt disjointed and initially unclear on what the audience is supposed to take from it – I really enjoyed where it was going.

Though not remarkable in any sense, Mjali and Make are actually pretty enjoyable to watch on screen in their respective roles. After I got over my gripes about the clunkiness, I fell into their relationship and, if you suspend your disbelief enough, their relationship dynamic makes sense.

Their chemistry as a couple was also a standout for me and I found myself investing in their relationship, and the anticipation from knowing they were inevitably going to duke it out on live worked to make me feel a general nervousness. 

Tangible chemistry from the couple and investing in their relationship, of course, are probably the most important ingredients for a good rom-com, so it honestly felt like I was in for a good time.

I was even willing to overlook the several cracks that were beginning to form - like the side characters that felt like afterthoughts at worst and plot devices at best, to the really weird production faults (especially concerning the sound and lighting) – because I don’t need a movie not trying to be a masterpiece to be a masterpiece. More than anything, for me to genuinely enjoy a movie, especially one centred on romance, all I need from it is competent storytelling and enjoyable (hot) leads.

For example, movies like Obsessed (2009), John Tucker Must Die (2006), and Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009) might not be the best movies ever made, but I would watch any of those in a drop of a hat over most Academy Award winners. Like, Sharon (Beyoncé) telling Derek (Idris Alba) to pack his sh*t and go to hell (or maybe the Four Seasons) in Obsessed is unironically one of my favourite scenes in anything of all time.

So, it seems that I was primed to at least enjoy whatever Forever Yena was offering. However, things began to slowly fall apart literally the moment the fight happened.

For some spoiler-free context, their fight on live centred on Kwanda’s financial irresponsibility, which was haphazardly hinted at towards the beginning of Forever Yena, and the major consequences one of his poorly-informed decisions had on their relationship.

This, at first, seemed really promising because of the aforementioned (potentially) life-altering stakes it set up.

Despite the lazy-at-best setup, it was at this moment that I realised how invested I had become in them, so imagine my dismay over the gradual unravelling of even a shred of competent storytelling and believable character progression.

Now that Kwanda and Penny weren’t sharing direct screen time anymore, it became clear how much more investment there was put into making Kwanda a somewhat well-rounded character, while any attempt at developing Penny was basically abandoned. 

Not unlike many rom-coms with their woman leads, outside of Kwanda, it just felt like there wasn’t much to Penny and she had absolutely zero growth in the movie. Put Kwanda in his own movie and it won’t be the worst thing you’ve seen but put Penny in her own movie and you will be doing the try-not-to-die-of-boredom challenge (level:impossible).

To make matters worse, Forever Yena loses, towards its end, the two things keeping it from falling apart entirely – Kwanda, and the resulting anticipation on how he was going to resolve the issue he created - by not only butchering their progression but completely abandoning them.

At some point, it just seemed like things were happening and people were saying stuff.

But what did they mean or had to do with the overall story?

Your guess is as good as mine.

I was left dumbstruck at just how bad things had become and could not believe how much worse the resolution was. In fact, I cannot, in recent memory, think of a worse conclusion.

So, it is because of this that I cannot in good faith call this an okay movie - even if Mjali and Make delivered the greatest performances of all time, the budget was R3 billion, Jesus himself intervened, and I had a gun to my head.

Despite having a really promising start, hot leads with palpable chemistry, and an interesting premise, the movie is, ultimately, let down by rudimentary writing and bottom-of-the-barrel storytelling. 

Still, I guess if you’re in the mood to watch something awful or just want something to play in the background between rounds, then you could do much worse than Forever Yena.

Take from that what you may, but I’m giving it stale stale boxes of chocolate out of 10.

Forever Yena is available to stream on Showmax now.