by Wilfred Okiche
Blessing Egbe has built a career on documenting the ups and downs of being female in Nigeria. In the soap opera, Lekki Wives – her signature piece – she trained her lenses on upper-class suburbia. Scratching the picture perfect surface just a bit, Egbe uncovered a scandalous layer reeking of crime, misdemeanour, and domestic dissatisfaction. On the EbonyLife series, This Thing Called Marriage, Egbe holds up the lives of two newlyweds, as a reflection of how people punish and frustrate their so-called loved ones.
On film, she has mined similar territory but rarely to satisfactory results. 2015’s Iquo’s Journal was a shoddy adequate attempt at exploring female sexuality, made worse by a leaden incorporation of a social problem (HIV/AIDS), in a bid to score grants from the Project Act Nollywood Film Fund. Two Brides and a Baby (2011) looked yummy and appeared ripped from the headlines, but eventually turned out a big ball of clichés.
With her latest, Ms Egbe is sticking with what’s worked – or hasn’t – depending on who you ask. The Women is a big screen dramatisation of female friendships and cutthroat rivalry among middle-aged, well to do Nigerian women. The men tag along, mostly as appendages but don’t expect The Women to pass the Bechdel test or say anything profound. If these women have any issues that aren’t brought on by themselves, then they can be traced directly to the menfolk. As a matter of fact, whenever two women share screen time, it is a man they are discussing.
And who can blame them?
Ene (Kate Henshaw) for example, is married to an extremely wealthy slob, Chubi (Greg Ojefua) and as far as the eyes can see, does not lack anything that money can buy. But money cannot buy love, neither will it keep a girl sexually satisfied, so to make up for this, Ene adds some extra-curricular requirements to the job description of her studly cook (Edem Roxy Antak). Rose (Katherine Obiang) is frustrated. She has her needs, and her wild thoughts, but finds herself at the mercy of her less than enthusiastic husband, Olu (Femi Branch).
Frequent Blessing Egbe collaborators, Ufuoma Mcdermott and Omoni Oboli complete the quartet as Omoh and Teni, two frenemies who have to deal with a broke spouse and a failing marriage respectively. The women all profess to be lifelong friends but do loathsome things to each other on the down low. Things like sleeping with someone else’s husband and gathering each other’s deepest secrets for use at any opportune moment.
The early scenes introduce the women and their clear and present challenges. At least two of them are cheating, one is on the verge of doing so, and the last is struggling to keep her husband. Omoh wants to celebrate her 40th birthday in a manner she considers depicting of her status – she’s broke – and goes ahead to do some unscrupulous things to get her way. She invites her three friends and their spouses to a weekend getaway in a fancy resort. But she gets more than what she bargains for when the party gets out of hand and devolves into a vicious tell-all debacle.
Teni at some point in the film declares that “when two or more women are gathered, there is war’’ but that is just an excuse to allow for all the cattiness and serial backstabbing that the women in this film engage in.
The Women is a trashy romp and is certainly more interested in celebrating bad behaviour and throwing revelations at the audience than seeking resolutions, as the film’s rushed final arc demonstrates. Think Fifty but ten years younger heroines and a lot less class.
The characters are mostly well to do but a lot of things about the film – from the 150,000 thousand Naira suite in the resort, to the production design, hair and makeup on the actresses – just appear second rate. The sets are sterile and do not look lived in and the actors never quite settle in comfortably into their roles on screen. Everyone just looks like they came to a job and while the more established stars can get away with phoning it in, the younger ones appear caught in the headlights.
An unhinged performance from McDermott whose Omoh is the dramatic focal point of the film is perhaps the major factor worth cheering about here. Her dialogue heavy explosion during the film’s battle royale recalls her excellent work on stage as the ravenous sister Esther in Hear Word. McDermott has many times (Okafor’s Law, Wives on Strike), made the best out of thankless supporting roles on screen but she proves here she can do leading lady convincingly, if given the chance.
The plot is pure camp and scenes are set up illogically at times just to keep up with the rushed pacing and in service to a seemingly preconceived ending that wants to tackle as many social issues as it can accommodate. Hectic editing, clunky camera work and obvious sound effects do not help The Women’s cause at all.
It is a challenge taking The Women seriously, beyond the feel-good factor, and even that, despite the laughs generated, and the occasion zingers isn’t a given. Being female in Nigeria is hard, the film suggests but it is almost impossible to empathise with any character on screen. The women bear wounds, but they are all self-inflicted.
The writer tweets from @drwill20.