By Pelu Awofeso
Fifty was released in Nigerian theaters nationwide on December 18, 2015. Pelu gives us the movie highlights with this review:
Fifty begins with Tola (Dakore Egbuson Akande) expecting her husband Kunle (Wale Ojo) back home from the office; seated alone in her living room, she is angry, bored and lost in thought. That scene is quickly followed by brief shots of a couple, whose faces we can’t clearly make out, kissing each other goodbye (“I’ll see you soon,” he tells her sweetly.) and yet another where a different pair is climaxing in a dimly lit room. They light and share a cigarette afterwards, giggling as they do.
The story picks up steam thereafter, leaves the world of the flesh and enters the auditorium of a church in the middle of a vigil and where the congregation is praying in that typically spirited Nigerian fashion. “Pray like you came here for a miracle,” the preacher says. Among them is Kate (Nse Ikpe-Etim), who is childless and will soon discover that she has cancer.
Under five minutes we meet the four lead characters of Fifty—the first film produced by EbonyLife Films and directed by Biyi Bandele who also directed Half of a Yellow Sun. The ladies go through the highs and lows of life in a modern city: Tola, national celebrity and reality TV host is dealing with a failed marriage; Elizabeth (Ireti Doyle) is super-successful medical doctor with a boy toy; Maria (Omoni Oboli) is a single, high-flying executive in an affair with a man whose identity she dare not let out, not even to her closest friend; and Kate, the go-to party planner who spends more time in church than she does at home with her hubby.
It turns out Fifty is a cinematic diary of a few days in the lives of this foursome who have either already turned 50 or are approaching that milestone age, taking us through their pleasures and their pains. Except for Kate, who still struggles to pay her bills and is plagued by a husband who does nothing but gambles with the family’s fortunes, the women are wealthy and pretty, but their public personas mask the surprising and shocking realities of their private lives, among them incest, adultery and a lump in the breast.
Mo Abudu, Executive Producer and CEO EbonyLife, says the idea for the film occurred to her when she turned 50 sometime in 2014. Though she didn’t write it, the film’s storyline draws from issues that came to light on ‘Moments with Mo’, her then talk show on terrestrial television. “Fifty is one of those journeys you take once in a lifetime,” she said in a post-premiere interview.
“So after I turned fifty, I started thinking of different scenarios that ended up in the movie,” she continued.
The film does have its shortcomings. In trying to tell a more rounded story of the challenges of a typical Nigerian woman in the 21st century, we only get to see a slice of their lives, where a more detailed depiction of the individual characters would have been necessary. For one, Maria and Kunle deserve to get more screen time, if only to let us into the kind of conversations they have as secret lovers.
But it seems that what Maria and Kunle lose, Kate and Chike gain. We see the couple argue at home like a normal couple would. We see them vulnerable and we hear them encourage each other.
“How many of your get-rich-quick schemes have to fail before you wake up, Chike?” Kate asks one morning during a heated conversation. “You might as well move into the church and come in once a week,” Chike fires back during another confrontation, pissed by his wife’s constant absence from his side when she is needed the most.
Feminists will enjoy this film as will anyone who loves the idea of women who are in control of their lives and who don’t feel compelled to follow long established societal norms.
Take Maria, for example: She is content with setting and surpassing her workplace goals, comfortable with being single at 50 and is not bothered about having kids; so it shakes her to learn that she is pregnant.
The character of Elizabeth is not weighed down in the least by the stigma of a failed marriage; she is elegance personified, wows audiences at her talks, parties hard and enjoys sex almost nightly with her younger lover.
Accomplished though they are, these women never fail to tell each other some home truths when the situation demands it. Tola, for instance, does not lose sight of the fact that fame is overrated. “I am simply famous for being famous, because the world is messed up.” she says hours to her show-stopping 50th birthday bash which feature performances by Sunny Ade, Tiwa Savage and Waje.
Lagos shines brightly in Fifty. There is no doubt that the producers have held nothing back to weave the vibrant sights and sounds of the “Center of Excellence” into the narrative, including some of its celebrity artists. I was pleased to see everyday landmarks of the city—the Holy Cross Cathedral and the City Hall for example—come into view (The appealing Ikoyi Bridge puncture the scenes one time too many though, in that trademark soap opera fashion). When Kunle finds himself locked out of his home on the instruction of his wife, he calls Chike and they spend the rest of the night, club hopping, from the new Africa Shrine to Freedom Park.
“We chose to see the best of Lagos,” Abudu says. “For the first time ever we are taking Lagos to a global audience all over the world.”
As things stand, the cast and crew of Fifty are on a roll. If the hype (Yes, Fifty is Nigeria’s Star Wars) is any indication, then the film is likely to have the highest box office figures of Nollywood at the end of its cinema run.
Pelu Awofeso is a Travel Journalist and Author. He is also the winner of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalist Awards in Tourism.