In one of the first scenes of The Wedding Party, we see a half-naked man, his checkered briefs visible, pick up a sheet of paper from a tarred road. The view is from between his legs, the paper flat on the asphalt. It is the film’s most cinematic scene. Thereafter The Wedding Party descends into a lengthy music video with more gags than music.
The film is set mostly at the venue of the titular event, and around the Cokers and Onwukas, two families shepherding their children, Dozie and Dunni, into matrimony – except that they seem more interested in wrestling with each other than the wedding. Before the wicked games of the ceremony, the mothers-in-law (Iretiola Doyle as Obianuju Coker and Sola Shobowale as Tinuade Coker) carp about the column inches devoted to each other in a celebrity mag.
Within the camp of the young, the raving heterosexual Dozie (popstar Banky W in his first starring role) is said to be forsaking all other female genitalia for these; Dunni (Adesua Etomi), a virgin, wonders how the night will go as a friend plies her with advice and sexy underwear. The best of the advice offered comes just as Etomi’s blushing bride is upset at her mother. “You’re Nigerian,” she is told. “It is their wedding day.”
With such astute coaching, who needs a wedding planner? But we get one, Wonu, a snooty Zainab Balogun who is set up big just so she falls. Balogun is much better in this role than she was in the atrocious 2016 film Entreat. Her character struggles to hold onto an event threatening to run her over. The film itself struggles to find her something to do. She fusses, is upstaged by a local caterer and succumbs to a cliché you’ve seen before: a posh, foreign-accented, hoity-toity person comes to speak a local language. The film trades in such romcom clichés: An old girlfriend comes back for one last dalliance; A best man turns out not to be best for anyone involved with the ceremony; The mothers will clash; the lovers will separate, but love, marriage and family—the Nigerian trifecta of traditional stability—will find a way.
Adetiba, who has done major work in music videos, cannot resist padding this Hollywood romcom core of her debut film with the trappings of celebrity. Indeed, the leads have played a couple before, in the video for Banky W’s ‘Made for You’.The picture by Akpe Ododuru is gloss-awash and the actors are assembled from the starry pallette of Nigerian television, film, and the Internet.
None of these stars are really acting. Etomi is as unremarkable as first-timer Banky W, who is just happy to be here. Yet two cast members stand out for different reasons. Sobowale is impressive. As the less classy of the mothers, she feels every hurt, delight and slight as her hyper-expressive face registers each emotion. As the loud-mouthed Nigerian, recognisable from afar and barely tolerable up close, yet compelling, she is the foil to the placid Mrs Onwuka.
On the other hand, there is Sambasa Nzeribe, whose role as a robber is pitiful. Nzeribe, the New Nollywood toughie, plays a parody of his usual roles here. But he is not sufficiently well known to get the audience to recognise what is happening. Even if the audience were in the know, he plays his part in the wrong key, lending an awkward smile to the camera at one point. His whole performance is supposed to be cheeky but ends up as misjudged as someone winking in a room not just unlit but empty. This misjudgement envelopes the entire film.
The makers of the film do not realise that the Nigerian wedding is a spectacle in which the couple are both hosts and performers. They will dance, kiss and provide food, music and fertile ground for single people to meet. If it goes well, a Nigerian wedding is a comic drama; if it goes badly, it’s a tragedy where nobody dies. Food might not reach every guest but in the end, the leading man gets the girl.
In this way, the Nigerian wedding already is in alignment with the movies. If true to its characters, the pleasure of a film about a wedding will come from within those same characters. Instead The Wedding Party superfits gags to a thin storyline. Unsure of its own scripted jokes, Adetiba’s film recruits known comedians to do their thing. And because it is derivative of western romantic comedies, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the superior film was Michelle Bello’s Flower Girl from a few years ago. That film wore its frivolity like a badge. Here there is a subplot of familial dysfunction that is ultimately jettisoned.
Like the comedies of AY Makun, who appears in The Wedding Party, the selling point here is slapstick humour and celebrity. But The Wedding Party is the elite response to the lower-class antics of Akpos, AY’s nuisance of a character. Silly behaviour runs through the classes, and both films earn a deal of their charm by being devoid of pretence: Their makers are aware there is no more to them than provoking laughter, which is why the serious scenes feel inappropriate. You are left thinking, let’s not pretend there are higher aspirations here.
According to reports, The Wedding Party is the highest grossing film in the history of Nollywood at the cinemas. And it is easy to see why. It has a few laughs, has as producer the media mogul Mo Abudu, and cashes in on one fact of Nigerian living: Nigerians love to watch the rich and famous enjoy themselves.
Nigeria’s mistress of gossip blogging, Linda Ikeji, understands the scandal part of this national pastime. Mo Abudu understands its showbiz potential. Together they take their compatriots for a ride. But only one party, the sucker audience, pays in hard cash for that trip. Ms Abudu merely laughs to the bank, and, like AY Makun before her, will return just in time to plan a sequel with a different name.