Let’s start with a jokey analogy.
Think of the Nigerian director as a girlfriend. Think of the Nigerian film as Indomie. The girlfriend is pretty and has great hair that seems to grow this side of a dream. She has a tricky dimple—a lovely, quirky thing that appears only on occasion and drives you wild when it does. She wants to entertain you, she wants you to give her money, she wants to prepare Indomie for you (personally I prefer pounded yam but let’s go on) Unfortunately, the Indomie is almost always soggy. For one reason: she leaves it to cook for too long.
For women, make that girlfriend a boyfriend and switch pronouns.
Many films have gone this way, giving viewers length, when weight is needed. In old Nollywood, the motive behind needless length was a lot clearer: they wanted to make the infamous part 1 to part 23. With new Nollywood, the motive isn’t quite so dishonourable. Sometimes it appears intentional: a screenwriter or director padding on the scenes to make a feature film of ‘respectable’ duration. Other times, the filmmaker misjudges the interest of certain scenes, giving more when less is enough.
With the film Just Not Married, it is a misjudgement not exactly from too many scenes but from ill-judged pacing. It is a flaw, but an interesting one – which in Nollywood terms is success of some sort.
The film opens properly when a young man named Duke goes to pick up his elder brother Victor from jail. On the way home, they have an exchange that is brief but poignant.
“Some things never change o,” says Victor, looking at his corner of Lagos.
“Like what?” asks his brother.
That exchange is the best part of the film. Lagos changes but remains the same. The next best thing is the likeability of the actors. Stan Nze is Duke, who comes equipped with a winning, naïve smile. You want to root for him even when he goes bad after getting his brother from prison. His mother warns him but you know how kids in movies never listen to their mothers. He gets two friends Lati and Keji to assist his robbing of cars. Rotimi Salami, as Lati, is the film’s acting weak spot. You like him but he isn’t very convincing. Judith Audu is Keji, very competent in her sidekick role. The viewer already knows Keji will become a problem because that is what happens in crime flicks.
She does become a problem but Just Not Married is smartly written enough to make it so the plot doesn’t depend entirely on this one trick. There are other threads. One is between brothers and there is another involving a friendship Victor (Roland Obutu) makes in prison.
The life of crime Duke turns to is ostensibly to rescue his mother from a debilitating illness. He quits school and sells stolen cars to a greedy, near-narcoleptic dealer (played by Gregory Ojefua, the go-to guy for deadpan humour). It works and he is able to pay debts owed to his local pharmacy assistant (a soft spoken, very good Sambasa Nzeribe, taking a break from gangster roles). Duke is a good guy caught in a bad place. His robberies involve markers not guns. The markers are for those use on cardboards to cover number plates with the words “Just Married” as you see on all of those vehicles many Saturdays across the country. It’s not a brilliant scheme. And it is hard to see it working for long in the real Lagos but you root for him. Things fall apart and turn deadly when he switches to a generous but ill-tempered dealer.
So far, so good. The Indomie looks like it will survive today…but then familiar issues with Nollywood show up: inelegant production design and the aforementioned trouble with pacing.
Like many Nollywood films, Just Not Married is not very ambitious in artistic terms. This is an industry-wide problem.
It is, however, entertaining with spots of good writing. It is also a morality story, even if it gives us likeable actors in major roles…they end badly.
At some point Just Not Married looks like it might turn out to be satisfactory for what it is but then it ends badly, suddenly. Almost like director Uduak-Obong Patrick, who looked motivated at the start, got tired and jumped ship.
Maybe that’s what happens with all of those soggy Indomie dishes: at some point during the making of the meal, the girlfriend or boyfriend simply stopped trying.