Rose Chinda/Mummy (Liz Benson-Ameye) is overly concerned about her children and their families scattered all over the world; calling them endlessly, thereby becoming intrusive. Her only son, Chijioke (Daniel K. Daniel), who feels disturbed by his mum’s incessant calls, travels from his base in Lagos to Port Harcourt to spend his annual leave with her upon reflections after the demise of a colleague’s mother. His experience within that period is the thrust of Mummy Dearest.
Willis Uzo Ikedum’s first feature film, Mummy Dearest, is refreshingly brilliant. He heeds the call, wittingly or unwittingly, by Joke Silva in the Vanguard Allure of 6th November, 2011 for strong female characters of all ages to be created in films. She said, “What you find now is that writers are writing, but are not exploring the ages, the multidimensional areas of women in their middle ages and exploring their experiences that will be nice for the audience to see and connect with.”
The acting in the film is understated, boosting verisimilitude. Benson-Ameye reaffirms her position as one of Nigeria’s best actors, owing to her unparalleled acting skills. Her mannerisms and slogan – ‘Nekwanu m o, Jesus’ (See me o, Jesus) – make her genuinely human because many people have catchphrases, but these are hardly seen in Nollywood films. Rather, we see stereotypical characters all the time. Daniel K. Daniel is an actor that will make an exceptional impact in the film industry if he keeps up or surpasses the standard he set for himself in this flick. Oronne’s (Gina Castel’s) sonorous voice is distinct; she and the boy, who plays her son, are also at home in acting; so are several other cast of the film.
Ikedum pays attention to little details like showing pictures of the Chinda family from decades ago – good family history. Chijioke’s portrait at 10 years or thereabouts is conspicuously seen in the family’s living room, telling everyone the prime position he occupies in the family as the only son; the part of Nigeria they hail from places utmost importance on male children. Even his name – Chijioke, God holds my share or inheritance – is exclusively masculine; telling everyone that there is an heir, whether apparent or presumptive.
A majority of Nigerian films present middle-aged and elderly women as malicious mothers-in-law who derive joy in meting out cruelty to their daughters-in-law. Ikedum’s Mummy Dearest gladly challenges that label, showing that much as we all have our idiosyncrasies, flaws, prejudices and biases, which are often the cause of human conflicts, these differences can be managed so as to maintain cordiality in the family. Ikedum presents a blemished woman, whose weaknesses do not make her any less lovable.
When parents are left alone after their children have taken off to pursue careers and/or raise their own families, the loneliness and insecurities they face are some of what we see in Mummy Dearest, conveyed in a manner that; according to Joke Silva, quoted at the outset; the audience can connect with. Through her nanny, the need to maintain a semblance of family life is portrayed. Initially, it appears the nanny’s children, who refer to Mrs. Chinda as grandma, are really her grandchildren due to the way they relate with her.
Another interesting trait exhibited by middle-aged women, whose children have all left home in search of the Golden Fleece as perceived in Mummy Dearest is that they are very religious, devoting a lot of their time to spiritual activities. Again, they think that today’s young ladies are wild and usually treat them with suspicion, assuming that they make their (the middle aged women’s) sons; whom they trained to be frugal; extravagant.
They still call their adult children the same pet names they called them when they were young (Rose Chinda calls Chijioke ‘Obim’, my heart – such a deep name!) and expect these grown-ups to ‘obey’ them like they did many years ago. These women (and men) also believe that they are as strong as they were as young people. The scene where Mrs. Chinda insists she will drive and the way she actually drives are reminders that the elderly overrate their strengths and capabilities; hardly giving up on activities for which time and age have reduced their efficiency.
In The Making of Oloibiri; a yet-to-be-released film, starring Richard Mofe-Damijo, Olu Jacobs, Ivie Okujaye, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett and Ifeanyi Williams; Taiwo Ajai Lycett stated – concerning her role as Ibiere in the film – that women should learn to let go as their children grow and choose their courses and causes. Parental interference in the relationships and choices of their progeny could be very frustrating. Boma (Wendy Elenwo) lives through this situation, coping considerably well. Indeed, middle-aged and elderly people should learn to let go.
The choice of a rainy day for Chijioke’s departure is ingenious as it heightens the feeling of sadness, which humans feel when it is time to say goodbye to loved ones. Surprisingly and in a bid not to make the story unpredictable, there are no tears as Chijioke leaves; superb. Plants and payoffs plus cause and effect are appropriately set up and executed in the film. The kidnap, following the dreams, aptly raises tension. The effect of the leave, which he spends with his mother who rises very early and wakes him up for devotion, is seen in his attitudinal change and consequent performance when he resumes duties at his workplace.
A little over a decade ago, a film called August Meeting (Ngozi Ezeonu, Eucharia Anunobi) which tells the story of middle aged women from South-Eastern Nigeria and the importance they attach to the annual August Meeting, where all the women, living everywhere in the country and beyond (except the heavily pregnant, the sick, the very aged and those who live in faraway foreign lands) gather in their communities of origin (or their husband’s communities, for the married) to discuss ways to tackle the challenges identified in their hometowns.
Disappointingly, August Meeting, a film premised on the intrigues of power tussle between two women contending to lead the women wing of their town union was reduced to a film on witchcraft by the producers. The project’s creator could consider a remake of the film, expunging all elements of voodoo and contrivance in the new film.
Mothering Sunday is another poorly executed movie about mothers and mothers’ day; which can be remade, incorporating elements that will elicit empathy in viewers rather than telling dismal stories. There were fears Mummy Dearest would have descended into that abyss after Mrs. Chinda’s dream, but the screenwriter cautiously shunned that plunge. Else, the film would have become a half-baked voodoo or crime story. So, in remaking August Meeting and Mothering Sunday, the producers should eschew the identified pitfalls.
A few shortcomings in Mummy Dearest are the fact that nothing is said about Chijioke’s love life in Lagos. Was he sowing his wild oats, did he completely close his eyes to women (which is unlikely) or did he believe it was better to find a wife among his people? There is no way a young man like him will not have his own history with women, whatever that history. Surprisingly too, his mum does not pester him so much for marriage; something expected from a mother with a lone son from these parts! Then, there are no subtitles the few times that Mrs. Chinda speaks Igbo. The voice at the Elkah Restaurant is unmistakably not Liz Benson’s.
Why was it only in the FilmHouse Cinemas, Apapa that Mummy Dearest screened in Lagos; a film, which, for me, will make the best three out of more than 50 Nigerian films that have so far screened in the cinemas in 2015? With chaotic traffic jam along the Oshodi-Apapa Highway, did the schedulers think that; apart from people like us who see films because it is part of our jobs or those who live close to the cinema; people will really go to Apapa just to watch Mummy Dearest and then be stuck in traffic for 6 or more hours?
The proprietors of cinemas need to be reminded that apart from star power, outstanding indie movies could make a lot of money from word-of-mouth appraisals by the audience. Additionally, they know the challenges that up-and-coming film-makers face in producing movies. So, they should be willing to assist by giving superlative movies by new film-makers like Mummy Dearest a chance in the cinemas at least for a week to prove themselves after massive campaigns like they do for star-studded films, many of which are of very poor quality.
The success of this narrative reinforces the fact that simple, well observed stories always work well. There are no visual effects or other sophisticated elements that excessively enhance the tale, but the film keeps one entertained all the way. Film-makers should explore films that look at other aspects of the lives of middle-aged/elderly men and women without copying Mummy Dearest.