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“Dinner” Review: Jay Franklyn Jituboh’s Romantic Thriller Misreads Its Premise of Feminine Infidelity

“Dinner” Review: Jay Franklyn Jituboh’s Romantic Thriller Misreads Its Premise of Feminine Infidelity

Dinner - Jay Franklyn Jituboh - Afrocritik

… because Dinner coddles its male characters by not interrogating the root cause of their obsessions, its treatment of the women becomes one aimed at soothing the egos of these troubled men.

By Victory Hayzard Solum

There is a long tradition of stories centred around the fevered speculations of husbands and lovers as to their statuses as cuckolded men, which goes back to the days of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the Decameron. Perhaps, even longer. The story of the Trojan War is, after all, about one man’s attempt to reaffirm his masculinity by sailing full mast with a thousand ships and breaching the impregnable walls of his rival’s home grounds with a giant horse. Other stories prefer a smaller, more contained narrative; which is not to say that makes them any less debilitating in their havoc. And it is to a simulation of this latter kind that Jay Franklyn Jituboh (Direct Message, The Origin: Madam Koi-Koi) turns in his romantic-thriller/drama, Dinner.

Originally released in 2016, Dinner follows Mike Okafor, played by Okey Uzoechi (Strain, Something Wicked) on a dinner invite from Ade George Jnr, his childhood best friend, played by Enyinna Nwigwe (The Wedding Party, Living in Bondage: Breaking Free) at whose upcoming wedding he is to serve as Best Man. He brings Diane Bassey, played by Kiera Hewatch (Two Brides and a Baby, Lekki Wives) with him; his girlfriend whose hand he hopes to ask for in marriage. And together with Lola Coker, Ade’s fiancée, played by the ever-dependable Kehinde Bankole (Adire, Sista), they must contend with the intrusiveness of the accomplished lothario, Richard “Richie” Boyo, who has a penchant for revealing dark secrets, as played by Nollywood’s go-to villain Deyemi Okalanwo (Blood Sisters, Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman).

With a screenplay also by Jituboh, the film’s director, Dinner features the staid cinematography of Mohammad Atta Ahmed (Light in the Dark, Chief Daddy), and a sedate, unobtrusive score by IBK Spaceshipboi, in a joint production by Sidomex Universal and 5-6-7 Entertainment.

Dinner - Jay Franklyn Jituboh - Afrocritik

With Mike as the film’s protagonist, we are saddled with the fears and insecurities of a man who has once been jilted by a partner who rejected his proposal for marriage. Unwilling to be weighed down by his resultant trauma, Mike is having another go at love, but his newfound partner, Diane, is harbouring certain secrets. Although, why they are secrets worth considering is not quite clear.

Dinner seems to be hinged on the premise of women cheating on their partners, except it seems more focused on the idea of women not having sex of any kind prior to their current engagements. This is not to say that the latter is any less problematic for the masculine ego; no, the realisation that one’s beloved was probably sexually active with living breathing partners in the past is often met with reactions just short of having a nosebleed.

Richie has bedded more women than his peers – many of them, wives and partners of other men. Owing to his resultant cynicism and distrust, he takes it upon himself to reveal a fact hitherto unknown to his friends; all women are liars and cheats. And it is this blatant generalisation that must be countered by our heroic optimist, Mike.

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But how is it that not once does this film take seriously the idea that these men, except Mike,  are not the chaste paragons of virtue they expect their women to be? If Diane’s secrets are worth the sermon it takes to reconcile with, then what about Ade’s secret?

Ade is guilty of a crime which subsists not so much in its commission, as in Diane’s case, but rather in his failure to disclose it to his friend. This highlights another rabid concern amongst menfolk — one not altogether divorced from ownership and possession — that to have sex with a woman is to hold sway over her for all future time, and a woman who has been so touched by another is tainted, marked, and untrustworthy, worse when it is by one’s kith and kin. The world-famous unwritten “Bro Code” exists to perpetuate such postulations.

And, because Dinner coddles its male characters by not interrogating the root cause of their obsessions, its treatment of the women becomes one aimed at soothing the egos of these troubled men. Here, we have Diane who is allowed the semblance of liberation by having a sexually active past. But it is one for which she must apologise and be forgiven, for having only occurred on account of her emotional travails. The same brush stroke is applied to Lola, with the slight twist of a drug-induced mental imbalance.

One gets the sense then that, perhaps, this is an important conversation being had by the men, after all. But instead of an inquiry into their women’s chastity, perhaps it ought to be one which rather aims to probe why they are so bothered, and what that means for the institution of matrimony and romance leanings as a whole.

Richie has struck gold in his excavation of human existence. Contrary to the self-induced delusions of his menfolk, women, the other half of the human population, are as given to the same desires and activities as men are, clandestinely or not. It is not because they are evil or insane or too feeble to ward off the advances of other men, but rather, surprise surprise, because they are humans, too, all pretensions by society, men, and women, to the contrary, regardless.

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Yet, how are we ever to accept and swallow this bitter pill if the enterprise of love and matrimony is to go on existing, with all its supposed benefits, without the psychologically detrimental task of having to reassure one’s partner constantly? The solution must be a return to blissful ignorance, brought about by a rejection of this message: that women are consummate and accomplished sexual beings with licit and illicit entanglements must be a suspicion entertained, but never wholly accepted. And for this, Richie is made a monster.

The truth-teller, where he is not revered beyond the status of mere mortals, and thus removed far from our sphere of affairs, must be a failure of a human being. Without boundaries or regard for civility, he must be a beast, an aberration. However refined his wardrobe, they cloak the traumas which only could have fashioned him so.

Thus, against the recriminations of his friend, Richie asserts again and again that he is not to be judged, as we truly do not know anything about him. This gives suggestions of a dark past, but whatever they are, we never do find out. It is only sufficient to understand that his declarations are those of a very wild and disturbed man. Worse, a man who most probably is a rapist.

Driven by this need to ensure everything wraps up neatly in a way that allows for the continued subsistence of the characters’ loves under the status quo, we are dealt with an unconvincing sermon by Ade’s father, as played Richard Mofe-Damijo (The Black Book, The Wedding Party) appearing here in cameo deus ex machina capacity with Iretiola Doyle (The Origin: Madam Koi-Koi, The Wedding Party) as his wife, which leaves one wondering if perhaps this is an alternate universe for that other 2016 movie The Wedding Party. Following the sermon is a race to the airport in cringe fashion, which, however romantic it is intended to be, whips up recollections of yet another absurd version straight out of the 2001 comedy Not Another Teen Movie.

Dinner starts with hints of an intriguing and promising premise worthy of discourse, backed up by a cast with appreciable acting. But in its pursuit of a traditionally romantic happy ending, it never rises to its true potential, serving up a forlorn dish of stereotypes, while ensuring to pander to and soothe the egos of anxious men.

Rating: 2.5/5

(Dinner is currently streaming on Netflix)

Victory Hayzard Solum is a freelance writer with an irrepressible passion for the cinematic arts. Here he explores the sights, sounds, and magic of the shadow-making medium and their enrichment of the human experience. A longstanding ghostwriter, he may have authored the last bestselling novel you read.

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