It is hard to go wrong with a movie that is built around a social message. Especially in conservative societies where signalling is key and it is still difficult for filmmakers and journalists alike to talk about movies without mentioning the lessons viewers can take away. Award handing bodies and critics are likely to be lenient with films that come bearing messages. Better if they are topical.
This explains why Stephanie Okereke’s Dry was hot on the awards circuit two years ago despite its unforgivable ending and why Moses Inwang’s schizophrenic Alter Ego managed to score up a special jury mention at last year’s Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF). It also explains (partly) why viewers thronged to cinemas to see Wives on Strike, the 2016 film directed by Omoni Oboli. Perhaps this was why the superstar actress/director could not believe her eyes when the film was listed on YNaija’s year-end most disappointing films list. Following the #ChildNotBride campaign, she had made a movie speaking out against child brides, was naturally feted in some circles. Who was this critic to dare suggest her efforts were less than stellar?
They were. Less than stellar, her efforts, that is. But the film made enough bank to justify a sequel.
This time Oboli grabs the juicy pie that is gender-based violence and bites off a large chunk. But she does not process it as much as she takes a few stabs at chewing, only to throw the mouthful out as a finished product.
It would be tempting considering all that has gone down to give Wives on Strike: The Revolution a pass, but I am here to resist that particular temptation.
Wives on Strike: The Revolution exists in an awkward space. It isn’t good. You won’t call it bad either. Just a meandering non-starter.
It is preachy in ways that could have been avoided if only someone had taken the effort to do a comb-over on the material. The jokes are repetitive and more likely to miss than hit and the production values make it look like it was initially conceptualised to be screened at a community theatre.
Mrs Oboli probably knows her audience. One would argue, but gender-based violence is an affliction that has no respect for station in life and a little more discernment would have helped the film’s cause.
How do you take seriously, a film that has only bland dialogue as the sole expression of sexual intent between married couples? Of all the couples depicted in Wives on Strike: The Revolution – and there are at least six of them – not one of them can find a way to express their desire for copulation via body language or other physical means. They must spell it out to their partners in words, all the better to frustrate audiences looking for some sensitivity. Who can blame the partners for turning down these oral advances?
A neighbourhood tragedy, possibly a direct result of domestic violence inspires the activism spirit in Omoni Oboli’s Mama Ngozi – don’t ask about Ngozi’s whereabouts – everyone’s favourite nosey parker. She gathers her acolytes (Uche Jombo Rodriguez, Ufuoma McDermott, both reprising their roles) in the search for righteous justice.
What can a team of passionate, semi-illiterate women do to change their situation? A lot, as anyone who has seen the first film knows by now. Chioma Akpotha is also returning as the wife of the politician who is friendly to their cause. Akpotha’s Vera and her hubby are given a side story that doesn’t work and is forgotten almost as soon as it is brought up.
For more star power, Oboli shrewdly invites Toyin Abraham, Sola Sobowale and Chigul. Abraham is transplanted directly from one of her Alakada sets. Her Iya Bola is no different from her popular Yetunde Animashaun character, spinning lies and wreaking havoc for fun.
As for the men? Kenneth Okonkwo reprises his role as the passive-aggressive hubby to Mama Ngozi. Julius Agwu is also back as the quietly emasculated significant other to Jombo-Rodriguez’s madam 12:30. Udoka Oyeka doesn’t come back but his character does and the film does not explain why Mama Amina (McDermott) has herself a brand new husband. Perhaps it matters little as the men in Wives on Strike world are nowhere near as significant as the women.
This time around, Mama Ngozi and her friends galvanise the women of Lagos to go on strike once again, with a vow to keep all of their goodies in the jar. Until relevant authorities look in to their demands. The screenplay does not exactly spell out these demands and this time it gets even more difficult to see the effect or relevancy of such a move. Chigul’s character, Joy, who is abused by her husband – Odunlade Adekola rehashing his Celebrity Marriage shtick – finds her strength not from the women’s movement, but from the realisation that her own limits of tolerability have finally been stretched beyond repair.
The acting work when it does, Omoni Oboli, Sola Sobowale and Kenneth Okonkwo are easily the strong points but the dialogue-heavy film won’t simply let them do their jobs convincingly. Product placements, busy drone shots and an uninspired gag that sends the women abroad to attend two international conferences constantly battle for attention with the actors who came to do solid work. As a producer, Oboli skimps on production budget, or rather works with what is available to her and presents conferences that are less than believable.
In a promotional interview ahead of the release date, Omoni Oboli described Wives on Strike as the gift that keeps on giving, just before detailing plans of a television series. Sadly, this gift is one-sided.
The writer tweets from @drwill20
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.