by Wilfred Okiche
It is the film that spurred a visit to Aso Rock where actress cum producer, cum first time director, Omoni Oboli sought a private screening with the powers that be.
It was the private screening that launched a thousand online comments, as pictures emerged of Mrs. Oboli, shaking hands with Mr. President, clad in a dinner gown that, with its plunging neckline, appeared fished straight out of Amy Adams’ wardrobe in the 2013 Oscar nominated film, American hustle.
Twitter disapproved, Jonathan smiled on sheepishly, Oboli fought back and her film, Being Mrs Elliot emerged the true winner, garnering doses of free, extra mentions. What is it they say about bad publicity? There’s no such thing.
So how does Being Mrs Elliot stack up in real filmmaking terms? Is it the best thing to happen to Nigerian cinema since, well, Half of a Yellow Sun or is it going down as another movie star vanity project that arrives dead in the water?
While not approaching the depth or quality of HOAYS, Being Mrs Elliot does bring to the table, an original story- at least by Nollywood standards. More pessimistic viewers may find it more than a tad similar to the little seen 1996 film, Mrs Winterbourne, starring Brendan Fraser and Ricki Lake. Oboli’s screenplay is indeed a step ahead of most of what has been seen this year. An engaging romp, Being Mrs Elliot is fun, fast paced, engaging even when it isn’t flawless.
The first thing that strikes is the picture quality. Crisp and easy on the eye, it enchants and sucks audiences in immediately, making up for the fact that the cinematographer and makeup artiste do not always light up their leading lady properly. There are issues with the editing too as some scenes sort of break uncomfortably into the next.
Omoni Oboli is an actor who showed a lot of promise in 2009’s The Figurine, then proved she could carry a film a year later, with Anchor baby. She has struggled for some time to find the right roles to fit her talent but this year she rebounded with back to back appearances in Brother’s keeper and Render to Caeser.
Being Mrs Elliot suffers from a disjointed beginning; one is not really quite sure what is going on as poorly acted scenes of faux friends from the right side of town get together for hot gossip and putting one another town in a House of Tara store. Apart from not serving to advance the plot in any way, these scenes have the dishonour to be unsubtle opportunities for tactless product placement. Omoni Oboli plugging a verve card has to be one of the most annoying scenes in recent cinema. Right up there with Stephanie Okereke shouting out MTN in last year’s misfire Doctor Bello.
But as the film ploughs on roughly, it finally settles on the couple Lara and Bill Elliot (played by Oboli and her favourite onscreen partner, Majid Michel). They are a successful couple by all accounts; big house, exclusive neighbourhood, highflying careers but they aren’t exactly happy. They do not have children of their own yet and the film suggests that this has contributed significantly to the tension between them. Lara is haughty, uptight and hard to please but this only means in film language that all she needs is a good man’s love to get her to lighten up.
She suspects hubby of cheating on her and fake friend advices that she trail him to Asaba where he is attending a meeting with his disturbingly efficient secretary. She stumbles upon a massage session just before it has the chance to blossom into something more revealing and storms angrily, out of the hotel room, and into the waiting arms of a stranger Fisayo (the beautiful Uru Eke) who is fleeing for dear life after she becomes an eyewitness to her fiance’s murder.
The 2 women bond over a random act of kindness and soon they are not only sharing a ride back to Lagos, Lara also offers Fisayo her wedding ring for some time, thinking she has no further use of it. A tragic event later and both women are transposed in entirely new ecosystems.
Ekiti state does not lie along the established Asaba to Lagos route but Lara finds herself in the idyllic village environment anyway, in the home of a stranger, Ishawuru. (AY Makun) whom she is unable to recognize. Suffering from amnesia, she knows enough to feel out of place in her strange new surroundings but is slowly brought back to life by Ishawuru’s tender love and care. But it is not all hearts and roses as she finds herself having to contend with the larger than life comic antics of Bimpe (Lepacious Bose), a woman spurned, if ever there was one.
Over on the other side, Bill is gradually settling into a mellow life with his markedly improved wife who benefits from some surgical enhancements and seems to have undergone a character makeover. This goes on for some time until someone refuses to mind her business and lives are disrupted, perhaps forever.
Being Mrs Elliot has some uncomfortable tonal shifts where it isn’t totally sure, what it wants to be. A tense thriller, a life affirming drama, slapstick comedy or a more traditional romantic comedy? A poorly shot chase scene on a motorbike reveals the director’s ill preparedness to handle motion shots but the film, with its dollops of generic dialogue and contrived setups- not to mention bizarre coincidences- finds more credibility as a romantic comedy.
The ending is resolved tidily, perhaps a bit too tidily to make the film work as a drama and only therein can the director’s original intentions be discerned. Oboli makes a commendable attempt at directing but she falters occasionally from all that responsibility of writing, directing, producing and starring in her own film. She lets herself get away with too much as an actor and her Lara which is the centrepiece of the movie is found wanting at times when she is required to rise to the occasion.
Majid Michel as the long suffering husband, plays it low key and wisely stays out of Oboli’s way as this is essentially her picture. It turns out to be one of his better outings. For every welcoming casting call- like Ime Bishop Umoh who steals the one scene he appears in,- there are unsure moments where Oboli finds herself incapable of coaxing living performances from her actors.
With Being Mrs Elliot, Omoni Oboli displays a lot of promise though, and can only get better with time.
– The writer tweets from @drwill20