If you have ever attended a Nigerian wedding, then you have already seen half of June, the sappy, Desmond Elliot-directed romantic comedy that places itself right within the wedding-industrial complex that Nollywood seems hell bent on exploiting. The film takes thematic cues from The Wedding Planner of 2001, directed by Adam Shankman and stars Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey. For a more familiar reference, though, you can turn to box office megahit The Wedding Party, which has now become a kind of pop-cultural punchline. The titular character June, played by Michelle Dede, represents every Nigerian woman and how they navigate through the knotty, complex issue of being unmarried.
But for June especially, a 34-year-old, successful wedding planner who has seen more weddings than she cares to remember, June is almost stylistically different in that it takes on a mild, dismissive, sisterhood-lite interrogation of marriage.
Her friends Remi (Empress Njamah) and Ejiro (Uche Jombo) are unmarried, too. Birds of a feather, you might say, but Ejiro offers contrarian opinions sometimes. “I don’t need a man to complete me.” she jadedly says to June and Remi in June’s bedroom. Remi and Ejiro frequently meet up in June’s apartment, or at the spa, or wherever women hang out these days. They are there with June following an awkwardly funny dinner date with her boyfriend Chudy (Edem Roxy Antak), whom she’s been in relationship with for five years and yet never proposed. Thinking Chudy had concealed her engagement ring in her dessert, June nervously eats a bowl of ice cream in seconds and frustratingly dissects her cake into mush. They are also there during the long, arduous period of June planning the wedding of Toke (Toni Tones), the grumpy spoiled brat and disastrous bride-to-be to Adewale (Vector).
Toke is hard to please, uppity and juvenile and insufferable. She throws a tantrum in June’s office when her custom-made Vera Wang wedding dress fails to arrive, and had condescendingly referred to Nigerian designers as “tailors.” She also orders an ice sculpture worth N600,000 for the wedding, which makes Adewale livid because, this is Lagos, and with the smoldering heat, who orders an ice sculpture? Adewale is already choked, and you can only feel sorry for him. Left to me, I’ll not marry someone like Toke but, as the film tells it, we still live in the time of forced marriages and the preservation of wealthy lines.
Still yet to propose, June’s relationship with Chudy heads towards implosion. Soon enough, their lives – June’s and Adewale’s – crosses into complications. An illicit romance buds out of the ruins, one that threatens June’s professional loyalty to Toke and stands as a recipe for bad blood. Circumstances forces June into looking like a desperate husband snatcher, even though Adewale is yet to say his vows. She’s 34 after all, and her mother (Chinyere Wilfred), who arrives Lagos from the village, firmly nudges June towards the toxic doctrine of marriage. For the record, I don’t like the term “husband snatcher,” as it means that Adewale had no agency of his own, but rather allowed himself to be kidnapped.
We have to talk about Michelle Dede’s performance, which was refreshingly luminous and blisteringly introspective. She expresses more when she isn’t saying anything, outshining the entire cast without necessarily overacting. On the other hand, Vector seemed like he just graduated from an acting crash course, inflecting his lines with a kind of bloodless pathos. He follows a growing league of artistes crossing into Nollywood; he’s also in the upcoming comedy drama Lara and the Beat, out June, starring industry colleagues Seyi Shay and Falz.
At its core, June is about personal happiness and the things we are willing to sacrifice for it. Adewale had to decide between June and his inheritance, June made attempts to rekindling her past relationship with Chudy, so that she can feel the love she once felt and ultimately get back on the road to marriage. But women, Nigerian women, have found happiness and success outside the whole marriage construct. In January, 2017, TV talk show host Funmi Iyanda faced backlash when she tweeted that marriage isn’t for her. Toke Makinwa, the one celebrity that Nigerians love to hate, capitalised on a failed marriage by publishing a bestselling tell-all in 2016 and went ahead to launch a luxury bag line the following year. Makinwa’s post-marriage success shouldn’t happen, but it did, and it defangs a system that deems marriage as a defining achievement for women.
But what does one expect from these kind of films? In the cinema, while watching June and Adewale share their first kiss, a woman in the front row seemed nervous and thrilled, as if a Mills & Boons romance novel had just come alive on the screen. And that’s what people want to see, so I guess June delivers on that front.