by Wilfred Okiche
To market Couple’s Award, a surprisingly decent, if linear domestic drama about the toll that the pressures of waiting for that first baby takes on young couples, the film’s makers and distribution team (Blue Pictures) have decided to pass the project off as a Kate Henshaw vehicle.
As the biggest and only marquee name on the project, Ms Henshaw, has been tapped to headline the film’s marketing thrust. Her lovable smile and distracting tribal mark make up takes center stage in the film’s promotional poster and she was at the Filmhouse Cinemas in Leisure Mall, Surulere, Friday afternoon, hawking tickets and convincing undecideds to take a chance on the modest feature length.
Viewers who go in on the strength of Ms Henshaw’s appeal may find themselves disappointed as she barely registers in the film. Her role, as an impatient mother-in-law itching to cradle her grandson is a stock Nollywood role, written and played a thousand times better in countless films gone by.
Thankfully, this arc which appears in the film’s first third is merely a thin crust and is soon dispatched with, making way for the more delicious meat.
Miriam (Kehinde Olorunyomi) and her hubby, Tunde (Gbenro Ajibade), are an enlightened, upwardly mobile couple living in Lekki, Lagos state. She runs a successful business. He is a lawyer. After five years of living happily and being content with each other, the pressures of having a child start to get to them. Miriam in particular has to suffer from the intrusions of her mother-in-law and an overly forward neighbor whom she considers beneath her in terms of social status. Miriam and Tunde eventually decide to seek medical assistance.
Lizzy (Regina Chukwu) is the nosy neighbor who does not quite understand when she isn’t wanted. There is some psychology to this though. Having grown and lived in the less glamorous parts of the city, she and her husband, Jude (Frankincense Eche Ben) have recently moved to highbrow Lekki and Lizzy finds herself responding to a strong case of inferiority complex. Confident that making friends with the more polished Linda will make this induction process smoother, she falls into the uncool habit of embarrassing herself and her neighbor at every turn.
Lizzy and Jude are also seeking the fruit of the womb and in a strange twist of fate, they are referred to the same medical specialist that their neighbors are consulting. The gynecologist (Gloria Mba) claims to have been practicing for twenty years but a careless mistake on her watch suggests that maybe she should not even be practicing in the first place.
This freak accident leads to a bittersweet, awkward result and both couples find themselves bound inextricably to themselves. The rest of Couple’s Award proceeds to deal with how people from different backgrounds, with diverse beliefs and varying levels of intellect, attempt to navigate circumstances beyond their control.
It isn’t a complete picture that Couple’s Award, as written and directed by Kehinde Olorunyomi Odukoya presents, and there is that troublesome itch to reach for a crowd pleasing ending. Looking beyond this though, Couple’s Award is a finely acted, well presented effort that is marked by a rich story and a somewhat faithful execution.
The central quartet of actors are able to move beyond Ms Henshaw’s showboating and reach for emotions that are true to what their characters are all about. Eche Ben (soulful), Chukwu (hapless) and Olorunyomi (icy) are aptly cast and are all terribly effective at conveying the essence of whatever emotions and situations their characters are going through. The writing is simple and uncluttered and the director rallies the film beyond the silly first beginning and builds up to something decent.
A deeper exploration of the resultant effects of subfertility and the emotional, financial and social implications for affected couples who find themselves waiting longer than expected may have been a more precise story to tell but that may have been at odds with the filmmakers’ original intentions. You should see it if you get the chance.
The writer tweets from @drwill20