“Less is more,” they advise. That sentiment is categorically false in the case of Married to Work. The film is simply too simple to be effective, and it fails to live up to its potential…
By Blessing Chinwendu Nwankwo
Call me a romantic, because I enjoy all the mush and cheesiness. But, dare I ask, what’s not to love about Philippe Bresson’s “From Boss to Bae” rom-com, Married to Work? Zaki Mlemba and Malaika Waveru’s characters in this pan-African film prove that “unlike charges attract.” The title, however, is not meant literally, as neither of them is truly married to their work, but, as with many rom-coms such as in The Ugly Truth, and Laws of Attraction, there is a fine line between love and hatred.
Married to Work is focused around a boss and his pain-in-the-back employee who goes from being unable to stand each other to pretending to be a couple in order to win over a foreign investor who believes that business is better when owned by a married couple. They share some undeniably genuine moments, and they quickly grow fond of each other. But what exactly does this mean for them? The film introduces us to some beautiful sights, tranquil settings, and lovely music. The film takes place in three cities: Nairobi, Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar, and lasts one hour and twenty-eight minutes. The cast, which includes Idris Sultan (Tanzania), Grace Wacuka (Kenya), Brian Abajah (Kenya), Brian Chandrabose (Tanzania), and Meg Otanwa (Nigeria) among others, are drawn from at least three African countries, with each actor working hard to play their roles. They display, beautifully, the unity in diversity.
However, something is wrong with this rom-com, and it isn’t the plot. With the display of hatred for love or a couple who claims not to want strings but then becomes entangled in a million strings—rom-coms are undeniably predictable. And, despite the fact that the film explores the famous trope of how spending time together forms a bond, the chemistry between the pair is lacking. While the couple is obviously attractive and has a good game plan, there is an awkwardness around them that prevents their story as a romantic couple from flying. My opinion is that the couple did not have enough off-screen time to get to know each other and become comfortable. An interesting instance are my favourite Nigerian rom-com couple, Timini Egbuson and Sharon Ooja (Skinny Girl in Transit). Being good friends, their off-screen interactions have an impact on their on-screen chemistry. A rom-com should feel like romance, but Zaki comes across as a robot incapable of love and emotions, while Malaika appears to be unaware of the film’s context.
The film creates a surreal feeling, and the story lacks depth. The plot has the potential to be emotionally charged, but viewers are not given the opportunity to relive those feelings. While I appreciate the writer’s effort to explore the surroundings of Tanzania’s tourism hub, Zanzibar, it fails to capture and properly delve into its tourist attractions and does not do enough to publicise its culture and tourism sector.
A first look at Bresson’s Married to Work reveals a lot of promise, as well as a new perspective on having a pan-African production on a major streaming platform like Netflix. Unfortunately, after a few minutes, I began to wonder whether this film truly deserved a platform like Netflix, or if this was just another case of promoting inclusion and diversity. The film fails to investigate the thesis that it is based on. The death of the pioneer founders of the Mlemba and Mlemba properties is treated as trivial but overly mentioned in the film. Also, shouldn’t Malaika be given some time to grieve the unjustified end of her five-year relationship? Instead of flipping the page and giving it a meaningless sidebar mention, perhaps some effort should have been made to develop depth and backstory.
Married to Work‘s potential is diluted by an amateurish performance. The flaws in the film can be seen in the cinematography, score, and cast acting. However, the lighting works. The only problem is that the film, like many student projects, is rushed for no apparent reason. In the movie, the lighting in the moment Zaki and Malaika almost kissed while being serenaded by the beautiful sound of Taarab music was beautifully set, but the viewers aren’t given time to bask in that moment, hence the true effect which was to feel the sensuality and connection between the couple isn’t felt. Even more, the lighting in this film has a calming effect. The film is shot in beautiful light, highlighting the vibrant surroundings of Zanzibar, from the clear blue waters of the cultural centre to the stone amphitheatre. Married to Work further enlightens the viewers on some musical and cultural preferences of the Kenyans and Tanzanians with the introduction of the Taarab and Amapiano beats. Potential tourists are also informed of the existence of the Forodhani (the famous food market) in Zanzibar, something to add to their to-do lists whilst visiting.
“Less is more,” they advise. That sentiment is categorically false in the case of Married to Work. The film is simply too simple to be effective, and it fails to live up to its potential. Perhaps a little more effort from the cast could have given it a nudge in the rom-com category, and while being lovestruck, viewers will become oblivious to the script’s numerous loopholes.
At the very least, this is an addition to Netflix’s pan-African film collection. They’re probably not at their best, but they set the tone for future productions in this cause. Maybe the next one will have a good enough structure and much better execution. In response to my opening question, what’s not to love about Philippe Bresson’s “From Boss to Bae” rom-com? The answer is everything. While it does not completely drown itself, Married to Work does not do enough to stand out. To say the least, it is not a terrible watch, if you are not watching from a critical point of view.
(Watch Married to Work on Netflix.)
Blessing Chinwendu Nwankwo, a film critic, beautician, and accountant, currently writes from Lagos State, Nigeria. Connect with her on Twitter at @Glowup_by_Bee and on Instagram at @blackgirl_bee.