BY ANDREW OKE
One fine day, an annoying street preacher waylaid me. I granted him audience and he began to preach to me about how God loves me, backed up with scripture. On a normal day, I’d just give him some money and walk away, but I was enjoying his mini-sermon so I stood there and I listened, that is until he began to veer off course and talk about how God hates makeup and skinny jeans. At that point, I zoned out. He had forgotten why he was there and what he was talking about. He had lost the plot completely.
Omoni Oboli’s Wives on Strike is that annoying street preacher.
Wives on Strike tells the story of three “market women” in Lagos (played by Omoni Oboli, Uche Jombo and Kehinde Bankole) who decide to stop the marrying off of a mutual friend’s (Ufuoma McDermott) thirteen year old daughter to a much older man by withholding sex from their husbands. This coital “strike” snowballs into a nationwide movement and eventually becomes the fight against child marriage on a political scale.
Despite its premise, Wives on Strike is a thoroughly enjoyable film about a woman trying to stop her young daughter from getting married off by her husband and the great support she receives from other women in the community who come together to protect the innocence and childhood of the young girl.
I apologise if I just made you feel the above sums up the whole film; it does not. It is a thoroughly enjoyable film until the half hour mark, at which point, it degenerates into repetitive and borderline slapstick farce of film. The film finds itself at a crossroads and had the opportunity to either be an important and surprisingly thought provoking comedy or a medley of worn out quips and jokes. Unfortunately, it chose to be the latter.
The film had a choice to closely follow the story of the young girl (Amina) and her conflicted mother played by an underused Ufuoma McDermott, as they fight against this great injustice suffered by girls all over the country. Instead the film discards these thought provoking characters after the forty minute mark and replaces them with scene after scene of men begging their wives for sex and complaining to each other about not having sex at a bar, because all men are sex-crazed animals. The director, Omoni Oboli didn’t think it necessary to follow the journeys of the only endearing characters, instead she chose to show how university students and prostitutes are no longer having sex as well as how the husbands have reverted to masturbation. It is almost as if the movie is the brain child of an Internet troll who tweets about every topic online without any real knowledge of anything.
Every acting performance in this film is stellar, so it is a pity that all of them were ultimately wasted. The standout performance comes from Ufuoma McDermott in an amazingly natural and layered performance. It is a surprise to see that even the usually heavy on the eye Omoni Oboli put in a good performance, which is sad as it is wasted on this film.
The humour in this film is repetitive and very hit and miss. They threw a bucket load of jokes on a wall and hoped that some of them stick. However, the jokes that did stick were very well executed and made everyone in the cinema hall throw their heads back and laugh. I laughed as well, that is, until I realised that the excessive humour was nothing but a mask for the film’s lack of depth. It came as a shock that a film taking on this subject matter could be so shallow. I understand that it is supposed to be light-hearted, but this film never skims the surface and to be honest, never attempts to. It resorts to turning this important issue of child marriage into a big joke, which shows naïveté on the part of the filmmaker.
Wives on Strike could have been an important film about the empowerment of women and the protection of the girl child, and it could have been just that if it had stuck to the issues and topics at hand, instead it veered off course and traded a real message for a few laughs.
Omoni Oboli is growing as a director and this unfortunate mismatch in story is perhaps expected from a neophyte director. Or, did she want to tell the tough child marriage story but realised that comedies sell better in Nigerian cinemas? Whatever the case, the good news is Omoni Oboli will most likely turn out a better director than she ever was an actor.