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'Ayanda' needs tuneup despite vibrant South African setting

'Ayanda' needs tuneup despite vibrant South African setting
Fulu Moguvhani, left, plays Ayanda, and O.C. Ukeje plays David in the movie "Ayanda and the Mechanic." (Array)

"Ayanda" revolves around the attempts by a spirited 21-year-old furniture maker (Fulu Moguvhani) to come up with a get-rich-quick business model to salvage her late father's service garage.

Director Sara Blecher spruces up the generic premise with a vibrant South African backdrop and a multiethnic cast of characters. Photographer Anthony Bila plays himself, drawing confessionals out of men and women on the street who pose for him — a device to frame the narrative. (This achieves the same kind of exoticism you see in Melina Matsoukas' music video for Solange's "Losing You.") But the film's mostly folksy soundtrack constantly tugs at you as a reminder that this is still the product of white filmmakers engaging in ethnography and cultural appropriation.

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Try as Ayanda might to overcome obstacles through initiative and ingenuity, her uplifting story still gets dragged down by the soap-operatic digressions from writer Trish Malone. Even with the myriad tasks and high stakes at hand, Ayanda finds time to juggle a romance with her subordinate David (OC Ukeje). Her mother (Nthati Moshesh) wants to sell the garage at the urging of her new man (Kenneth Nkosi), who appears to have an ulterior motive.

If only Tyler Perry's Madea were around to help stage an intervention for Ayanda's skewed priorities and separation anxieties.

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"Ayanda."

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.

Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.

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