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Mummy Dearest… Premiere Of Willis Ikedum’s Reluctant Comedy


Willis Ikedum, Director, with his mother-in-law

Willis Ikedum, Director, with his mother-in-law

The screening was over. The last two patrons, a young couple, had just made a u-turn at the bottom of the terraced incline, at Film House. They were now fading into the dark, carpeted passageway that leads out to the lobby, on the second level of the Port Harcourt Mall.

I stood between the first and second rows of seats. From there, I’d been thrusting my digital recorder at viewers, as they filed passed—sampling opinions of Willis Ikedum’s “Mummy Dearest,” which had just premiered, to a nearly full house.

Then, a glance at my recorder revealed a dulling mental lapse. The bright red indicator-light was not visible: I had forgotten to press the “record” button, before taking the samples!

Fortunately though, the sampling was little more than a formality. The audience had expressed its opinion repeatedly, while the projector was rolling: Through spurts of laughter and sprinklings of approving commentary, punctuated, at the end, with spontaneous applause.

The tone and tenor of the responses had been pretty much in the same vein…”Delightful”… ”Refreshingly different”…”Entertaining”… “A good laugh”…

Still, I walked heavily down the ramp, en route to the lobby, weighted less by my untimely oversight than by taxing rumination—the task of putting what I’d seen on the screen into perspective.

Like the audience, I found “Mummy Dearest” entertaining. But “entertainment” is not the main work of a movie. It is merely a gimmick to get you to watch.

A motion picture is a powerfully instructive art-form, capable of seeding the psyche of viewers insidiously —something, I was convinced, Ikedum should have been more conscious of.

“Mummy Dearest” is a light love story featuring Daniel K. Daniel and Liz Benson-Amaye as anchoring stars, with a noteworthy performance from newcomer Wendy Elenwo. Ellenwo, who played opposite Daniel, headed a largely Rivers State-sourced supporting cast.

Likewise based at Port Harcourt, is the promising young director, Willis Ikedom—co-producer (with his wife Chioma) and writer of the script.

I first met Ikedum in Ibadan, on the set of “’76,” where he was an assistant to Izu Ojukwu—who directed the much-hyped, but still-to-be released, take on the coup against Murtala Mohammed.

Daniel K. Daniel, "Chijoke" in the movie(left), in an interview session shortly before the premiere

Daniel K. Daniel, “Chijoke” in the movie(left), in an interview session shortly before the premiere

This was in 2012. He had already shot “Uzoemaka,” the first of two highly acclaimed short film—voted the best in that category, at the Abuja International Film Festival. A year later, “Ogundah” would premiere at the Hollywood Black Film Festival in California, U.S.A.

But “Mummy Dearest,” a N7.5 to N10 million production, is Ikedum’s first full-length feature—his “coming out” piece, so to speak. Set in the Garden City, it is the story of a three-way love affair, a triangular relationship, between mother, son and daughter-in-law-to-be.

Ikedum describes the movie (filmed mostly at his mother-in-laws house) as a “metaphor of motherhood”—an artistic mirror, of his own three-way love affair. “It was inspired,” he allows, “by my own relationship with two special women…My mother… and especially my mother-in-law”.

The plot is constructed around a mother-son re-union that sparks fire, initially. “Chijioke Chinda” (Daniel K. Daniel) works for a small firm in Lagos, while the mother, “Rose Chinda” (Liz Benson-Ameye), resides in Port Harcourt. But it is more than physical distance that separates them.

Chijoke only has time for himself, and his interests. He takes his mother for granted, rarely receiving or returning her calls, and is lackadaisical about work—habitually oversleeping, arriving late at the office and lagging behind in his assignments.

The inciting incident, the trigger for the action that drives the plot to its conclusion, is a tragedy that befalls Chijoke’s officemate, and close friend, “Ken” (Emmanuel Ilemobayo). The demise of Ken’s mother brings Daniel’s character to a jarring realization: His own “Mummy Dearest” will one day make her exit.

With his appreciation of motherhood thus renewed, Chijoke takes a leave of absence from the office and rings to say he is coming to Port Harcourt, to spend some time at home.

A devoutly religious Rose Chinda, drags her Prodigal Son to church—where, after service, she introduces him to attractive young “Bomo Koko” (Wendy Elenwo).

The Lagos bachelor promptly takes Bomo’s number—much to the chagrin of Rose, who hauls him off to one side. “That’s not why I introduced you,” she fumes.

Elenwo’s character quickly becomes an audience favorite. The entry of Bomo Koko into the scenario sets up a conflict that sees the overbearing and over protective Rose Chinda shadowing her son and intruding into his and Bomo’s space at unpropitious moments.

It is this conflict that generates humor—which is ironic, because Ikedum didn’t really intend for “Mummy Dearest” to be funny. “We hadn’t planned to shoot a comedy,” Daniel conceded, during a post-premiere interview (and in Ikedum’s presence). “It just kind of happened that way”.

Ikedum’s creative serendipity is apparently turning out to be a box-office asset—because, when I last checked, “Mummy Dearest” was reportedly doing quite well.

His manipulation of time though, reflects directing ingenuity and skill, rather than luck. The use of montage and side bars, to depict the drugging of Chijoke and the kidnapping of Rose, quickens the pace of the plot, without sacrificing dramatic effect.

Yet there are also conspicuous conceptual weaknesses. One is that Ikedum, like so many other Nigerian directors, fails to understand that a film does not have to be explicitly religious to carry a strong moral message.

An excellent example is Tchidi Chikere’s “A Million Tears”. This study in black tragedy is a powerful metaphor of love and loyalty (I cried throughout the last quarter of the film!). Chikere tells a morally gripping story, without beating his audience over the head with the Bible.

A second concern is the gender symbolism. Chijoke returns home to a house without a male head. Not only that, but every authority figure in the film is also a woman.

When Chijoke arrives late at work, for instance, his hard driving female CEO (well-played by Nneka Ikenna-Obi), snarls “Get out of my office!”

Nevertheless, there are snatches of brilliance in “Mummy Dearest,” which makes the movie worth watching—and suggests that Ikedum may be going places as a director.

“But it’s hard to say just where,” I thought, while plodding through the dark passageway, to the exit at Film House, “until he throws away his religious crutch, and starts to walk upright, artistically”.

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