by Okon Ekpo
Dinner is the new film written and directed by Jay Franklyn Jituboh. A drama of manners, Dinner is a chronicle of the events of a singular night, one that was set aside to celebrate relationships, love and friendship but takes a turn for the macabre when a series of strange coincidences lead to uncomfortable revelations of secrets long buried.
Dinner features an ensemble cast that includes Enyinna Nwigwe, Okey Uzoeshi, Kehinde Bankole, Keira Hewatch and Deyemi Okanlawon, 5 members of team ‘’new Nollywood’’ who are famous for having worked with each other on several other projects. Try to keep track here: Nwigwe and Uzoeshi appeared in the similarly themed Couple of Days earlier this year, about three years after Uzoeshi and Hewatch both starred in the whodunit, Murder at Prime Suites. Okanlawon was a supporting player to Kehinde Bankole who got top billing for this year’s erratic Beyond Blood.
The premise for Dinner is easy enough to follow. Mikey (Uzoeshi) is invited by his childhood pal Ade George Jr (Enyinna Nwigwe) to fly to Lagos from the nation’s capital for an intimate dinner to celebrate Ade’s upcoming wedding to his lady love Lola (Kehinde Bankole). Mikey decides to go along with his girlfriend but on arrival things quickly get out of hand in ways no one (well, maybe except for the audience) could have predicted.
From the opening scenes, it is pretty obvious that Dinner has a woman problem. Two of young Nollywood’s most competent actresses are cast as disposable arm candy, dependent on the whims of their not-exactly-interesting male co-stars. When Hewatch makes her appearance, she is introduced as a secondary character, the girlfriend to Uzoeshi’s Mikey. It is not her story we have come to see but that of her male lover.
Such a reactionary fate also befalls Bankole who has to endure the indignity of making her entrance behind Nwigwe, an actor whom she can comfortably act circles around but in whose presence she is asked to stand behind and melt into the role of token girlfriend.
When stalwarts Richard Mofe-Damijo and Ireti Doyle show up in cameo appearances as the parents of the groom,- they must be rehearsing their dynamic for the upcoming Wedding Party,- Doyle has to walk behind RMD and speak one line for every five that he gets, in keeping with Jituboh’s agenda of keeping his female characters subordinate to their male counterparts.
Jituboh expresses his teen boy fantasies of imagining his female characters only as sexual props who partake in consensual acts of intimacy, but are promptly slut shamed shortly after. If Dinner were made in Hollywood, the actresses would have been mandated to do full frontal nudity, to advance the plot of course and also to realize Jituboh’s wet dreams.
Beyond the sexual politics, the movie, which enjoys some support from AfriNolly is bland and does not excite much. Deyemi Okanlawon as the haunted foil to every other character’s happiness does what he can to enliven things but there is only so much he can make out of a pretty square story.
Dinner’s closed in setting and close up shots would have fared better on stage where the dialogue-heavy script may have fared better, although an editor would still be needed to cut out all the repetitive dialogue. A problematic scene where the guys keep up a pointless back and forth about women and fidelity is particularly cringe-worthy because it rehashes dated stereotypes in a lazy, non-intelligent manner and adds nothing new to the conversation.
Set for the most part on a single night, the lighting becomes a sore point and doesn’t exactly shine bright. At some point in the final act, the make-up team goes into overdrive with the actors’ faces. There is some challenge with continuity when at the outset, Ade Jr informs Mikey that the planned dinner is for a few friends as well as his parents. Imagine our surprise when the parents do not appear at all until the next morning and the script fails to explain why.
Jituboh who has made the short film Once which was selected for the Durban International Film Festival last year and the television film Daisy’s Secret tries out his first feature length with Dinner. His shortcomings as a filmmaker and storyteller may be forgiven this time but that doesn’t mean his film is any less forgettable.