'Mother of George': A glittering, vibrant, extravagantly beautiful world
"Mother of George," the ravishing sophomore feature film by Nigerian-born fashion photographer Andrew Dosunmu, opens with a wedding scene that calls such classics as "The Deer Hunter" and "Goodfellas" to mind, a celebration every bit as closely observed and utterly mesmerizing.
Like those films, "Mother of George" is set in a tightly knit immigrant community -- in this case, Nigerians living in Brooklyn, where they've built a largely insular world that's only occasionally punctured by the society surrounding them. As that radiant opening sequence plays and plays, the stunning bride, Adenike (Danai Gurira), and her groom, Ayodele (Isaach de Bankole), are feted by friends and family, all dressed in explosions of saffrons, pinks and blues, and all offering blessings and sage advice -- none more freighted than the wish from Ayodele's mother for the speedy arrival of a grandson, to be named George.
But no pressure! "Mother of George" chronicles Adenike's attempts to build a family with Ayodele, who runs a successful restaurant with his brother Biyi (Tony Okungbowa). Meanwhile, Adenike's solemn efforts to be a traditional Yoruba wife contrast sharply with the behavior of her best friend, Sade (Yaya Alafia), who is forging a far more contemporary, hybrid Nigerian-American lifestyle.
The tensions that animate "Mother of George" -- between tradition and autonomy, culture and identity, loyalty and duty -- ultimately clash in a highly pitched domestic melodrama that will be familiar to fans of the Nigerian genre known as Nollywood. If that vernacular is prone to facile emotionalism and simplistic crudeness, Dosunmu infuses it with a rich, glowing, visual sense and languorous, deliberative pacing. As with his stunning debut film, "Restless City," Dosunmu has worked with cinematographer Bradford Young to create a world of vibrant textures, surfaces and diverse hues, whether the jewel tones of sumptuous African textiles or the characters' bodies themselves. Filming in mirrors or through sheer curtains, starting shots blurry and then bringing them into sharp focus, the filmmakers create a glittering, vibrant, extravagantly beautiful world that, although steeped in global consciousness, feels as recognizable and immediate as any prime-time soap opera.
Working with playwright Darci Picoult, Dosunmu has created a fair amount of tension as the shy but supremely self-possessed Adenike navigates her own way through conflicting pressures and impulses -- a journey that becomes fraught with its own physical and psychic dangers. Gurira and de Bankole infuse their Adenike and Ayodele with strength and sympathy in a story that, while culturally specific, never feels merely anthropological or patronizing. Like his characters, Dosunmu is forging his own cinematic space -- one steeped in the rituals, rhythms and textures of the country of his birth, but one in which any viewer will feel at home. In fact, it's a place you may never want to leave.
Three and a half stars. R. Contains sexuality, some obscenity and a disturbing image. 107 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.