BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
This comedy film by Kunle Afolayan is the first of three films to be released this year. In the past, the filmmaker has focused on releasing one film per year, but in this case he took the risk and went all out, shooting all three films in less than a month. The question of whether this risk paid off is one only the films themselves can answer.
Omugwo, one of the three, is a collaboration between Golden Effects Pictures and Africa Magic, and this partnership is a first, an unfamiliar mix of lightheartedness (attributed to typical Africa Magic comedies tagged by many as “Igbo films”) and Kunle Afolayan’s characteristically mystery-laden approach. This collaboration births mirth in Omugwo, with a bright touch of excellent directing, good writing, and superb production quality.
Omugwo is the story of a career-driven civil engineer, Omotunde and her on-air personality husband, Raymond, and how they welcome their first child. Both their mothers come around to perform the omugwo, an Igbo-named tradition that requires the mother of either the husband or the wife to come live with the new mother for a period of three months to assist her around the home. In this case, both mothers show up, and their divergent personalities clash. While Raymond’s mother, Chimamanda (Patience Ozokwor), is very motherly and a lover of children, Omotunde’s mother, Candance (Ayo Adesanya), is superficial, artificial and unfeeling. But they both must learn to cohabit for the benefit of their children and grandchild.
The story, written by Kemi Adesoye is interesting and ingenious. It is also relatable, as almost every woman with a mother or mother-in-law knows what omugwo entails. It is supposed to be a time of relief for the new mother, but for some, it is a time to dread, and this picture is quickly suggested when Raymond signals to his wife not-so-discreetly to say no to his mother’s proposal to come for the omugwo. The viewer immediately wonders why, especially with Patience Ozokwor’s track record of wicked mother-in-law roles. We mistrust her intentions, and are afraid for Omotunde when she accepts.
It turns out Chimamanda isn’t a beast after all. She is sweet and understanding and unashamedly local. We, however, cannot say the same for Candance, whose only reason for showing up is to compete. She makes it clear she is neither interested in the marriage nor in the newborn, and would rather be in Milan having the time of her life. But she would not miss an opportunity to prove that she is better at everything, especially when it concerns her in-laws.
Laced with humour and drama, the Omugwo idea is fresh. The execution, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Ayo Adesanya fits the Candance look but doesn’t deliver the role to taste. She amplifies her sophistication so much that it is almost impossible to connect to her character. Her reactions and responses are over-the-top, and her relationship with anyone in the film is hard to understand. Ken Erics as Raymond is great at the beginning of the film, but as we move further down, mild inconsistencies in his character and acting begin to show. The Chimamanda role doesn’t favour Patience Ozokwor as well as it should because we all know she can be fantastic at this kind of stuff. Like Erics, she begins great but doesn’t sustain it. And Omowumi Dada as Omotunde is a tad too theatrical, as opposed to how natural she has come across in all her prior outings. With a film that focuses mainly on just this four, it is easy to lose interest every now and again, then laugh, then lose interest all over. The most interesting character would have to be Candance’s driver, (played by Christian Paul), who is absolutely natural and believable.
Some inconsistencies in this film stand out: A two-months-old looks nothing like Omotunde and Raymond’s baby at two months. If we were told the child was four to eight months, that would make more sense, but a need to fit the duration of the omugwo may have twisted the director’s arm. Chimamanda gets a call around daylight in front of her village home and arrives around daylight at the hospital in Lagos. We reckon her village is somewhere in the east. It doesn’t exactly add up that she arrives just in time, considering that even if she took a flight, there is booking and flight schedules and Lagos traffic to contend with. And with the way it looks, Chimamanda came by road, so how does this work?
The nurses in the hospital who assist Omotunde during her labour are an assembly of women in white singing “Push!” in rhythm, on top of their voices. Unless this was done with comic intent (and it isn’t very funny), it is utterly ridiculous.
The typical Nollywood film attempts to be pontifical, infusing a message that gives the film an elevated sense of self-importance. Omugwo falls right in with convention and infuses a mix of a postpartum depression message with a family message with a love and harmony message. Having a message in itself isn’t an issue, but forcing a message on a film is like forcing on a size 8 gown on a plus-sized person.
The film embarks on a wild-goose chase regarding where to terminate. Amidst stretched scenes and random conflicts, it finally comes to an end and while it gives moments of laughter, it doesn’t exactly hit home, especially in comparison with Kunle Afolayan’s other comedy film from 2012, Phone Swap. Perhaps the timing of the shoot had everything to do with it. Perhaps not.