Friday, 28 April 2017

CAUGHT ON NETFLIX: The Wedding Party & Morris From America

One of the great things about Netflix is the chance to watch movies that would otherwise be inaccessible.

A recent example is the Nigerian romantic comedy The Wedding Party. The movie caused a sensation in Nigeria late last year, becoming the highest grossing Nigerian film of all time.

A romantic comedy about the hijinks at the reception for the marriage between the upper class Dozie (Banky Wellington) and the more humble Dunni (Adesua Etomi), The Wedding Party is a fun little caper.

I have never seen a Nigerian movie before, and this movie made for an interesting juxtaposition with the African Film Festival screenings I went to earlier in the month. While those movies were more indie in spirit and subject, The Wedding Party is a rom com, pure and simple. It's pretty conventional in plot, and if you've seen a Hollywood wedding/reception/Christmas/family hijinks comedy, you'll enjoy this.

Being a relative ignoramus on Nigerian movies, I was doing a bit of research while watching -- I read that Nigerian cinema had taken a few style notes from Bollywood (which is very popular in the country) and there are aspects of the movie where you can definitely see a bit of that influence.

While it is intended as entertainment, there are elements which are specific to the local context: the end of the oil boom hangs over proceedings; Dunni's parents try to placate their wealthy in-laws by booking a troop of dancers from their tribe, but pick the wrong one. While class is present as a fracture between the families, the filmmakers do highlight the bubble the characters are in by including a subplot about a poor man who finds an invite by accident and decides to crash the party. 

The acting ranges between totally naturalistic (the leads are really winsome) to panto (the mother of the bride is HUGE), but it helps to delineate between specific groups of characters and adds a few different tones to what could have been a fairly predictable ensemble (scorned ex, scorned brother, rowdy band of best men etc).

The most distinctive character is the wedding planner (Zainab Balogun). She is starring in a very different movie --  from her POV, The Wedding Party is a social horror story in which a professional woman loses her sanity trying to fulfill the conflicting demands of the warring families

A fun distraction, and a good intro into a cinema scene I was only vaguely familiar with.

Another movie worth recommending is the independent coming-of-age film Morris From America.

Craig Robinson has been a great comedic actor for several years now, but this is the first movie to  give him a real leading role.

 Here he plays Curtis Gentrya widower who has moved to Germany for work along with his 13-year-old son Morris (Markees Christmas). While Curtis is at work, Morris struggles to fit in with other kids his age. After his German tutor suggests going to the local youth centre, Morris decides to get out of his shell. Cue first love, and all that entails.

Variations on this premise have been done before, but this one manages to strike out on its own. While some plot turns are vaguely predictable, the understated direction and naturalistic performances help maintain an air of unpredictability. This elliptical quality prevents the movie from feeling hooked to a specific set of expectations -- the lack of music helps -- and makes the emotional stakes feel more real.

It's a small, intimate story with an empathetic, non-demonstrative perspective of its characters. It's really good.
Both movies are good examples of what platforms like Netflix and Amazon can offer. 

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