Jubilation and revelry mark the beginning of Mother of George, the sophomore film from Andrew Dosunmu, as rhythmic drum beats and congregational singing usher the viewer through a traditional Nigerian wedding ceremony; a joyous procession shimmering in gilded light, illuminating golden headdresses and majestic robes of purple, bearing witness to the union of Adenike (Danai Gurira) and Ayodele (Isaach De Bankolé). It is an occasion steeped in the merriment of hope and cheer for the promising future that now lays before them, one hopefully filled with good health and financial success but, most importantly and above all, one filled with healthy children.
Children are imperative. The importance of this expectation is the driving force behind Darci Picoult’s script, one that focuses on and emphasizes the role and duties of a new wife within the Nigerian diaspora community. With the bearing of children paramount to the success of the marriage, the initial excitement at the thought of conceiving slowly erodes into stressful desperation as month after month goes by without a positive reading appearing on a pregnancy test. As each window of conception closes, each missed opportunity is seen as a failure on the part of Adenike, as a wife and a woman.
The mounting stress of her predicament leads to an escalating sense of hopelessness. Much of which stems from the fact that the older generation places the blame solely on her. Simultaneously, a sense of helplessness invades as well as because of the limitations imposed on her options by her culture; because according to her family, this is her dilemma and hers alone to conquer.
The pressure and stresses constraining her, along with the insular community partially responsible, are communicated in the way in which Dosunmu and cinematographer Bradford Young present these actions through confining close-up. Although the film takes place in NYC, the city is rarely seen (at least, never in full); it resides within the opaque margins with Adenike’s life front and center. The camera tight against, Adenike’s full frame rarely visible, seemingly never able to breathe as the film burrows further and further into her personal space, cornering her in her predicament like those around her until only one possible option is left. One desperate action that will immediately alleviate her current emotional confinement while also assuaging the concerns of those around her, but also simultaneously establishing a beast of heartbreaking guilt that will consume her from the inside out.
Even in the midst of these tumultuous events, Young and Dosunmu (who has a background in photography) never fail to present their characters with nothing less than elegance and reverence. Every portraiture, gesture, and movement composed and framed with an unbound sense of respect and admiration, each actor seemingly cast within an air of regality. Although, the film is littered with flawed individuals making precarious decisions (or cultivating the outcome of those precarious decisions) everyone is bathed in a venerating light; empathy illuminating.
No one is gifted that reverence more so than Danai Gurira, who is responsible for translating the emotional heft of Picoult’s screenplay which she accomplishes with aplomb. Gurira’s talents are on full display throughout the film but there are two specific examples of Gurira’s indispensable gifts as an actor, both subtle in movement yet immensely stirring with emotional impact.
The first example occurs during a distressing one-on-one interaction with Ayodele’s mother (played by the late Bukky Ajayi). A delicate conversation, one where Adenike must deflect the judgments from her mother-in-law while also maneuvering through them in order to reach her, to plead with her into convincing her son to go to the doctor. The taxing toll of this interaction is visibly apparent due to Gurira’s posture and body language, a gathered jumble of anxiety struggling to supplant her distraught mentality with poise; enabling the viewer to see with clarity the damaging effects of Adenike’s plight.
A devastating lip quiver is the other. A rippling shock passing through the lower jaw of a woman who has finally heard the phrase uttered by her husband, the phrase that she has been imploring to hear, for what seems like ages. An arrival that would have been warmly received prior but now functions as a well-meaning dagger to the heart unbeknownst to Ayodele. Witnessing that quiver is witnessing a small death rumble through the physique of a once-content woman, felling any last remnants of joy. But, that’s not to say that joy is forever unable to seed, it’ll just take some work on the part of Ayodele.