The strawberry, apart from being a fruit that is popular in Nigeria only by name, is an edible aphorism and a practical joke. It is all that glitters is not gold; never believe what you see on the internet; a perception/reality trick that never gets old. With a decent stretch of the imagination, this red pockmarked fruit can also be a metaphor for The Wedding Party.
The Kemi Adetiba directed film is about two families, Cokers and Onwukas, one Igbo the other Yoruba, on the day of the wedding of their children, Dunni (Adesua Etomi) and Dozie (Banky Wellington). The families are being reluctantly joined together in matrimony, and in this lies the movie's basis for dramatic conflict. The Wedding Party, like all good jokes, leverages on existing stereotypes to draw the audience into its gladiatorial conceit, but unlike the best jokes, it neither transcends nor subverts these stereotypes. The Igbos hate the Yorubas. The Yoruba family is self-destructively in love with the Owambe and the need to put on a good show for everyone to admire. The Igbo family is too to interested with making money to hand over the family business to others to monitor on the day of the wedding. There are philandering men, promiscuous women, and an extremely naïve virgin. Thankfully, the demons aren't Yoruba.
All these are shown with the bright colors, extravagant fashion, and flamboyant excesses that are expected of a Lagos wedding involving the upper class. The movie, from the start, is all champagne flutes, designer wedding gowns, and talk of time spent schooling abroad. To be fair, an attempt to show a Lagos wedding without these things would be to tell a stunted story. This movie, like none other in recent Nigerian cinema history, is packaged and marketed to perfection—not even Kunle Afolayan’s The CEO with its flying premiere comes close. The trailers were released to highlight the Owambe joy of the wedding’s best moment and the attraction of all our favourite comedians in one star-studded cast. The marketing of the movie is the first of its two masterstrokes. The second is Sola Sobowale.
In her role as Tinuade Coker, mother of the bride, Sola Sobowale plays the typical Yoruba mother capable of swinging between vocal eruptions of anger and sullen melancholic fallouts, dramatic exaggerations and passive aggressive silences. She’s one of the few actors who can pull off a scene where they roll on the floor in agony one second, and rise up the next, on account of a fear no sane person would take seriously, without looking utterly ridiculous. Sola Sobowale proved, in The Wedding party, what all watchers of Yoruba movies and TV dramas of the early nougties have always known: no matter how ridiculous her role is, Toyin Tomato's image will always come out good in a moving picture.
Ireti Doyle’s acting is undoubtedly phenomenal, but in this movie she’s a professional cyclist given an Okada to stunt with. She does her best to pull off the role of icy Obianuju Onwuka, detached mother of the groom who is displeased with everything on show. But there’s a limit to the tricks you can perform on a Bajaj motorcycle before falling off. Richard Mofe Damijo as Felix Onwuka and Ali Baba as Bamidele Coker find themselves in two differing situations with similar results: one is a good actor in a limiting role that requires him to bat eyes at a woman across the aisle while pretending his wife seating right beside him doesn’t notice, while the other is a mediocre actor who comes short in a role that requires proper dramatic range.
Frank Donga is the only comedian who comes out of this movie with his image enhanced. He delivers his lines as Harrison, the mouthy driver, with well-timed perfection. Ayo Makun is on stage to confirm the general suspicion that he’s a good compere masquerading as a mediocre comedian because that’s what pays the bills, while Emma Oh My God’s farcial turn as a praying minister is only surpassed in its ridiculousness by Zainab Balogun as Mosun the jittery wedding planner.
The Wedding Party never truly decides if it wants to be a good-natured drama or just farce. On one hand, Banky W and Adesua Etomi are putting their best into roles as a young couple battling the odds, and on the other Balogun and Emma Oh My God are in their own slapstick movie. This is a format usually employed by wedding dramedies like this, but with the caveat that both parts—the drama and the slapstick—are made to clash in moments of pathos, the comedy giving lightness to the emotions of the drama. The instances where these two parts clash in The Wedding Party—for instance, the scene where the robber brings out the gun that ignores Chekov’s admonition—are like the confluence of two immiscible liquids.
And this is where the strawberry metaphor comes in handy. The wedding party is a wonderful movie if all you look at are the few funny turns of phrase, the beauty of Nigerian weddings, and Sola Sobowale. But if you go into the cinema expecting a great drama complete with a well-realised plot, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. I’m still trying to figure out how the bride paid for a cab with neither her phone nor her purse, or how she managed to light a fire alone on a Lagos beach. But if you’re interested in the glitz, the glamour, and that brilliantly-choreographed meme-generating dance, then you’ll go for more servings at the cinema.
The strawberry is not bad; it's just the often artificial flavor that over-hypes the fruit. One hopes that filmmakers, following the example of fruit juice companies who have forever fooled us into the goodness of the strawberry flavor, would take lessons out of this movie's perfect marketing. There is more chance, however, that The Wedding Party's success will inspire copy-cats: comedy/drama family movies released in the festive season and shot with an abundance of film stars with little care for plot or fully-formed characters. But the strawberry joke doesn’t work twice. Bite it once and the jig is up.