With Strangers, the journey is more important than the destination. At the very least, it’s about how the journey shapes the destination’s perception…
By Blessing Chinwendu Nwankwo
I first came across Biodun Stephen in 2021 from her 2018 interview with The Next Edition, titled “What Makes a Great Movie.” Aside from learning that she was the brains behind Picture Perfect and Ovy’s Voice (two of my favourite movies), the way she spoke about film piqued my interest in becoming more involved in the industry. Stephen has had a successful career in Nollywood working as an actor and a filmmaker. Her works, including Breaded Life, Progressive Tailors’ Club, and A Simple Lie, were aired in 2021, which was a rather eventful year in the cinematic arena for Nollywood. These films helped to establish a reputation for her brand, which she has maintained in the years since.
Strangers, like Wildflower, is told with raw emotions and no overacting by Stephen. She demonstrates both starkness and compassion in her representation and directing. Although an emotionally uplifting film, where everyone can find their own place in the story, Stephen never lets us take our eyes off the central character. Strangers is based on true events and tells the story of Adetola Akinjobi (Ade), a boy whose life is turned upside down by a catastrophic illness. Ade manoeuvres through the various aspects of relationships that life throws at him.
Strangers is a 2022 Nigerian mystery drama film directed by Stephen, based on Anthony Eloka’s screenplay and Banji Adesanmi’s story. The film is set in various time periods ranging from 2000 till date. Strangers is set in Ireti Village, which is presumably the real-life Ago-Ireti in Ondo State. Ireti is described in Ade’s opening narration as a small village surrounded by water, away from religion, education, and civilisation. Ade’s narration is a letter written to a Mrs Kylie (the identity of whom we do not learn until later), with the intention of “telling her about an ounce of his life, so they may cease to be strangers.”
Strangers explores humanity, the power of coincidence, and sheer goodwill. There isn’t much humour in, but there are a few laughs here and there, and I’m glad the film is able to tell the story in the tone it deserves. Ade, played by Lateef Adedimeji, has been a major part of the big screen, and while he is known for his comical characters, and even more synonymous to Yoruba-themed movies like Ayinla, The Griot, they do not, thankfully, define his acting. In Strangers, his character is represented in various decades and by various actors (Daniel Bogunmbe, Mide Glover, and himself), who go above and beyond to ensure that every emotion Ade felt was properly communicated to the viewers.
Bimbo Oshin gives a stellar performance as Ade’s mother. While this is definitely not her first big appearance, she shines bright in Strangers. Ndamo Damarise, who plays Jayne Macauley, is a breath of fresh air in the role she plays. In the course of this production, the Cameroonian actress flaunts her diversity as she communicates primarily in French, and occasionally in English. While it may appear insignificant, it is a creative addition that may appeal to Nollywood fans in the Francophone countries. Also starred are Bolaji Ogunmola, Debbie Felix, Femi Adebayo, Chris Iheuwa, Jide Kosoko, Bimbo Akintola, and Nonso Odogwu. The casting by Stephen works perfectly to ensure the message is delivered properly.
Strangers tells a herculean story with a simple plot. Stephen finds a way to deliver pain without diluting its quality. With no intention of eliciting emotions, the film seizes the audience and takes them on a journey that draws a thin line to distinguish fate from faith. With Strangers, the journey is more important than the destination. At the very least, it’s about how the journey shapes the destination’s perception.
The film’s set and setting in various locations is an important part of the story. Time moves with the setting, from the interior village to the hospital, the CGS schools, and finally the university. Each of these locations is completely appropriate for the story, making it relatable and realistic. Unfortunately, rushing through these times and places stunts character development. Still, the film pays attention to details, which is an added bonus because many films do not. In Strangers, everything is explained, including Ade’s limp and the scars left by the illness.
Strangers is built on raw emotions, which is both its strength and its weakness. Because the story is based on true events, the director’s unconscious effort to maintain the story’s originality flaws its delivery as a film. Every other character suffers in order to keep Ade in the spotlight. The film’s flaws hamper the creative context; no back story is provided for any other character, not even his sister Dammy, who appears a few times on screen, or his brother, who is only mentioned once. The argument isn’t so much that the plot should deviate, but rather, that we get a glimpse into the lives of the other characters.
Overall, the film starts well and ends well, and while the second act begs for more pace, you can’t argue with the performances of the lead characters. Strangers may not be one of the most memorable films in Nollywood’s history, but it is a more-than-passable effort worth every second of your time. Strangers is a huge success in terms of its intended purpose, which is to motivate. However, it is an inspirational story, but one that doesn’t meet all the criteria for a good film.
(Watch Strangers 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.