Admittedly, Stephen has over time reiterated her skillfulness in writing and directing films that often touch the emotional core of audiences, but Big Love fails to restate Stephen’s forte in eliciting genuine emotions.
By Seyi Lasisi
The Nigerian filmmaker, Biodun Stephen’s films are often festooned with distinct concerns. But at the core of these movies is the director’s lurking style: simple story; grand narrative. Over the years, Stephen has learnt to adeptly trade in that single currency, and this has repeatedly earned the admiration of the audience. But, as I watched Big Love, I had a palpable concern with connecting to the emotional core of the film. In the emotionally driven Sista for example, what keeps tugging at viewers’ hearts is Sista’s candid interest in her children’s welfare despite how tedious providing for them proves. In Sista, as in other films that lined Stephen’s filmography, (Wildflower, Strangers, Breaded Life, A Simple Lie, Introducting The Kujus, and The Kujus Again) the writer-director’s dexterity in mining grand narratives out of simple stories always takes a front-line position.
Big Love trails the career and emotional journey of Adil (Timini Egbuson), who is from an affluent background. In the opening scene, Adil breezily haggles with his mother about a decision he has just taken. From their conversation, one thing is clear: Khareema (Jaiye Kuti), Adil’s mother, is a domineering presence in his life. To ensure his mother consents to his wishes, Adil employs the help of his aunt, Aunty Khafil (Shaffy Bello). Away from Adil’s family is Adina (Bimbo Ademoye) whose story will soon take centre stage. Like Adil, Adina is beginning a new career path, and a bank training retreat provides a space not just for their career to thrive, but for love to blossom. Adil and Adina are already acquainted, prior to their coincidental reunion at the training camp. But this casual friendship soon dovetails into a serious love chase. But Adina is reluctant to let herself love Adil as much as he loves her, as there is a prowling dilemma in her mind: Adina is a single parent. And Adil’s mother has obvious grudges against single mothers. In an effort not to jeopardise Adil’s relationship with his family, Adina threads cautiously with her affection, as she sees little possibility of their relationship blossoming. She initially has a reservation about rich children who are able to hop from one career interest to the other, but as their relationship intimately intensifies, this reasoning slowly dissipates.
Although different situations lead them to the graduate training ground, their stories eventually interlope into a seemingly emotional journey. And here lies the problem. The film is touted as a rom-com with footings in family drama, but it lags in bearing out these heartfelt emotions that one would expect from the genre. Aside from the frequent physical display of affection, there is not enough chemistry between the supposed lovers. However, what the film lacks in its rom-com department, it assuages in its family drama unit. The father-son bond between Adil and his father is tolerable. Khareema and Khafil’s chemistry as sisters who take every opportunity to trade gossip is well-managed and directed into something worthwhile and entertaining. Thus, while Big Love constantly dawdles to bear the good tidings of the lovers’ emotions, the film’s strength somehow lies in the family drama.
The emotional core of the film, which should be Adil and Adina’s love story, fails to elicit genuine emotions. The film profusely relies on telling, and this is not backed by a believable performance, making the love story bland. Building an emotional connection to the story of the seeming lovers comes with greater effort. When the film subtly teases into a family drama — the director’s forte — it is still hard to connect to the gravity of the situation the film presents.
The cast members give passable performances. Egbuson and Ademoye’s reunion as lovers might recall their love relationship in Breaded Life. Though there are noticeable fragments of their previous lives in Breaded Life present in Big Love, the film and their acting chart new territory. The few times Ademoye’s acting is ever commendable is when she converses in Pidgin English. Bello’s role as the lovable aunty is lovable to witness. And while Seyi Awolowo’s presence is like strands of hair, his acting as the carefree relative is passable and manageable to watch. Credit is also deserving of the soundtrack that invites the audience to take a few locomotive gestures.
Stephen’s cinematic offerings are always compelling and anchored on societal causes. Her films also find a way to lure these societal issues into the ongoing drama. And as she addresses these social issues (rape culture in Wildflower, single motherhood and forgiveness in Sista), Stephen often avoids taking a judgmental stance in her writing and directing. With her films, she is bearing witness to a social issue and subtly inviting the audience to make independent judgments. What stunts Adina’s desire and almost breaks the bond between Adil and his family is the question of single motherhood. As expected, the director makes us active witnesses in the unfolding drama and trudges this into the plot.
Although filmmaking involves a lot of technicalities (sound design, cinematography, and production design) in its making, at its core, there is also storytelling. The director has over-emphasised her mastery of storytelling, but Big Love comes off as a rehashing of a cliche narrative. Admittedly, Stephen has over time reiterated her skillfulness in writing and directing films that often touch the emotional core of audiences, but Big Love fails to restate Stephen’s forte in eliciting genuine emotions.
(Big Love is currently showing on Prime Video)
Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.