Friday, January 30, 2009


THE DECONSTRUCTION OF ‘JENIFA’

A REVIEW OF FUNKE AKINDELE'S MOVIE

by Wole Oguntokun

AS PUBLISHED BY THE GUARDIAN OF FRIDAY JANUARY 30, 2009

There are no never-seen-before plots or sub-plots in the movie, Jénífà, no twists and turns that are unprecedented, yet the producer, Funke Akindele, succeeds in showing the truth of the adage that “Originality does not consist of saying what no one has said before, but in saying exactly what you want to say”. Through the protagonist, Jénífà whose name is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon “Jennifer”, the movie succeeds in meandering through a potent mine-field of well-worn clichés and easily-recognizable situations, ending up as a box-office success, the kind of which has not been seen in Nigeria in recent times.

The movie in its two parts as is the weird way of all Nigerian movies now, tells the tale of a village bumpkin, Suliat, confident in her mastery of her hometown, Aiyetoro, until she is admitted into a University in the city of Lagos. Suliat’s ego is crushed time after time as a new student who discovers her brash ways are considered uncouth and vulgar by the more ‘refined’ city girls. She is adopted by three girls on campus, Ronke Odusanya who plays ‘Becky’, Mosunmola Filani (Tracy) and Iyabo Ojo (Franca). These three musketeers play their roles of opportunistic harpies to the hilt, and Suliat rapidly loses the freshness of a village beauty, evolving into a hardened undergraduate always looking for an angle.

With an array of mostly girl-actors, the cameras range across a university campus and into the city with the total number of actors and extras at about one hundred and five. This kind of numbers are peculiar to the Yoruba film industry, which is alive with alliances and collaborations ensuring that entire groups and caucuses back each other up in casting and technical matters if and when the need arises. There is a pecking order in this industry with the younger ones playing as extras until their own time and ‘freedom’ comes.

The acting sometimes bordering on the farcical, has many fine points, at least of the main actors, with the lead actor, Funke Akindele, apparently following in the footsteps of actors like the British-born Sacha Baron Cohen who studied to create and become the sometimes-vulgar but always very funny character, Ali G, and the equally funny but bumbling character known as ‘Borat’. Funke Akindele, who in real life is a smooth-talking graduate of the University of Lagos, slid well into the persona of ‘Suliat’ a.k.a. Jénífà, showing there had been back-ground work done. Her supporting actors, Ronke Odusanya, Mosunmola Filani and Iyabo Ojo match her in their portrayal of girls in a desperate quest for social relevance and financial security. Kola Olaiya and Tola Oladokun who played Sulia’s parents were well-cast with Kola Olaiya performing superbly as her father. If there ever was anyone born to a role, it must be Eniola Badmus as ‘Gbogbo Big Girl’ (translated roughly as ‘The embodiment of all big-girls’). Badmus, whose presence commands respect on the screen, and not only because she has more weight than the average female, plays a female-pimp that holds the viewer spell-bound with her self-assurance as the Lord of all she surveys on campus. Since Badmus’ performance, the term ‘gbogbo big girl’ has become common parlance in Nigeria.

Giants from Yoruba filmdom were there to lend a steely edge to a movie that might have been considered very light in their absence, with Jide Kosoko, Bayo Salami, Yinka Quadri and Yomi Fash-Lanso weighing in and making it a well-rounded cast. Other noticeable roles are played by Sola Asadeko as the wayward ‘Tutu’ and Honey Ikemefuna as ‘Bobo Ibo’.

Technically, the camera angles and shots are basic, the movie itself easy on the eye, not requiring any pretensions to high intelligence from its watchers. The translation of the Yoruba idioms and phrases to English on the screen, will not score anywhere near a hundred percent in accuracy, and the editing and sound are not always up to par (there is a spot where the boom microphone shows in the shot). Voice-level discrepancies can be heard from shot to shot, even when it is the same character still talking. However, even Hollywood blockbusters like Russell Crowe's 'Gladiator', had many errors in them visible to the discerning eye, including one where a mound of sand was heaped on the ground like a pillow so Crowe the star, could lie comfortably on the ground during a shot, and another where the engine powering a chariot was visible. All these were left uncut in the final movie.

Effort is taken in ‘Jénífà’ , however to have a fairly acceptable musical score and soundtracks.

‘Jénífà’ the comedy, suddenly takes a cruel turn in its Part 2 (which was most probably shot in the same period as Part 1). The style does not deviate from the age-old Yoruba formula for story-telling, where the story gradually unfolds to a didactic or moralizing climax, an end in which people pay for their sins, and the ‘righteous’ are rewarded for keeping to the straight and narrow.

Becky dies for engaging in anal sex, Franca for going to a party hosted by people who needed human fodder for rituals, Tracy loses her ability to bear children because of too many prior abortions and Jénífà is rewarded with expulsion from school and the HIV for her wayward ways. There is no escaping the wages of sin in this movie.

A lack of fluency in the English Language is an impediment to many Nigerian movies, often manifesting as a stilted delivery of lines and an obvious lack of ease in extended dialogue. The producers of ‘Jénífà’ easily overcome this obstacle by sticking to their first language, Yoruba, and manipulating it as they wish. It is a wonder to see language in flight, dipping and soaring in the mouths of experienced users.

This movie will not pass the test in the Western world on account of technicalities but it has found almost unprecedented acceptance in Nigeria, a kind unseen in recent years. The most obvious questions – Should we allow external standards influence our judgement of work or let the public, whether discerning or otherwise, make its own decisions? Can we set Hollywood or Bollywood as the pass-marks of a good movie here? If the people love a work, is cultural acceptability enough?

The ‘problem’ with the critic always, (this writer inclusive) is that he (or she) always imagines he knows more than the public he writes for, and is the person best suited to tell them what they must like and accept.

At The Future Awards, the entire audience numbering more than two thousand, cutting across social strata and class structure stood to its feet as one and clapped all the way as Funke Akindele mounted the podium to receive the award for Actor of the Year primarily for her role in Jénífà , easily beating the Stage actor, Jennifer Osammor and the Nollywood actor, Mercy Johnson to first place. And that might be the final answer to all our questions. Let the people speak.

21 comments:

Mogaji said...

Aargh! I'm mad everyone is talking about this movie. It was horrible. I got sucked into watching some of part 1 by my sister and friends. I cannot imagine why this movie appeals to anyone. It was full of unnecessary sequences. The opening sequence had everyone around me rolling with laughter except me. It was a stupid attempt at slapstick comedy. I wonder when nigerian producers will remember that most people have lead eventful lives outside of university campus and their stories are also worth telling.

Lost at The End said...

Mogaji, I couldn't agree more.

But, what kills me is that no one has said anything about how the annoying Nigerian idea of the sexually errant female body as a carrier of venereal diseases is reinforced by the movie.

The irony is that statistically, in Nigeria, men are more sexually errant than women. But somehow, in this these movie it is women who end up with STDs as punishment for expressing their sexuality outside of the heavily policed boundaries of female sexual identity.

I don't get it. It would seem that there should be more movies where men fuck around and get STDs?

Chili Pepa said...

I totally agree with Mogaji. I saw the opening sequence and was instantly put off. That Nigerians like it is great for Funke Akindele, and I am happy for her. But the fact that Nigerians like something has never been proof its quality .

Also I find it funny that, when Nigerians insist on quality in any area, people turn it into a question of judging by foreign standards. Quality is quality in any country, just as shoddy is shoddy, regardless of the language. With works of art the demand for quality is even higher because art requires that the viewer immerses a subjective,sensitive part of himself into the experience. Any distortions due to poor quality of that work, kills the experience. It's that simple.

So why do Nigerians like it if it's so bad? Well, first of all, I haven't said it is bad. I have said that it is nothing to write home about. And, in answer to the questions of Nigerian liking it, I can only say Nigerians are a bit desensitized. No, not a bit, a lot. That is why a military dictator would remain in power until an act of God unseats him, or a civilian governor will steal his state blind and still walk the streets like a King. So many problems plague us as Nigerians, and Lagos residents particularly, that we seek refuge in flimsy things.

laspapi said...

Mogaji seems to have raised a banner to which some are drawn to. On my Facebook page and inbox however, the responses are pro 'Jenifa'.

However, I must address Chili's submission that 'Nigerians are desensitized'. We might be, on issues of politics and in our acceptance of leaders that know little, but I speak as an artiste (and I dare say, one with a solid pedigree in that field) that the public knows exactly what it wants.

You might love Heath Ledger as the deranged Joker in Batman or Meryl Streep in 'The devil wears Prada' but it takes nothing away from you enjoying a 'Jenifa'. laspapi directed the V Monologues and enjoyed Funke Akindele's 'art'. There are no paradoxes here.

This movie lays no grandoise claim to seeking Oscars in any department, but it has won the hearts of many, worldwide, and that cannot be argued with.

If we follow the tack presented here, we might say Obesere doesn't play music. But he does. It just might not appeal to you.

And I suppose what really riles us here is the run-away success of a movie some think little of.

laspapi said...

Some comments on facebook

"I just gisted my sista about Jenifa. I love the way the story which bordered on a d'eko dere in part one twisted into a moral and health campaign piece as it rolls towards end credit in part two. Kudos to all those that made it happen; it's been a long while I last watched 9ja movie but this has definitely rekindled my interest.

The entire movie can be watched on youtube...; I wonder if this is not the next battle ground for activists against piracy."

-Anne Muyiwa


this review hits the nail on the head. i think its fantastic....

- Lala Akindoju


Wolzy!!! I concur per Jenifa, "The people have spoken".

- Mojolaoluwa Osidipe Adewunmi


Brilliant simply brilliant! - Your piece in today's Guardian 'The deconstruction of Jenifa' i mean lol.
More ink to your pen (or however that adage goes lol)

- Onomarie Frances Uriri

FineBoy Agbero said...

I think the problem with people -- Mojagi, Lost At the End and Chilli Pepa -- is that they approach art with the purpose of criticizing. Some works of entertainment are meant to be enjoyed and not seen as exercises in intellectual discourse. Jenifa is one of such. Whoever uses the word "quality" near such movies is just wasting their time.

People criticize the spoofs (the Scary Movies, Epic Movie etc) yet the public revels in them. Commercial success is a far cry from technical success. One of my best movies is The Prestige, yet it didn't enjoy so much commercial success. I didn't wonder for long: most viewers get bored with twists and turns and brilliant play. And this is where the critics forget the basic fact: a large number of viewers go to the theatre or cinema, or buy a movie, to be told a good story and purely entertained. Simple. If the opening sequence of a movie had everyone except one person rolling in laughter, then the director of the movie has made good success.

Jenifa is a good movie by the industry's standards. I have not for a long time seen a movie that almost everyone enjoyed. Even our "phoneticized" radio presenters on Cool FM reveled in it and used snippets of convo from the movie.

I think people should just let go of their inhibitions and snottiness and enjoy the simple things in life.

(And Papi, I couldn't agree more with your analysis and comment.)

Lost at The End said...

I doubt if anyone disagrees with Agbero that:

"Jenifa is a good movie by the industry's standards."

But the thing is that I am less interested in Jenifa than in the "industry's standard." What does the Jenifa movie matter? It is simply a symptom of the bigger problems that plague Nollywood.

And what is wrong with criticizing Nollywood? Every movie industry has it's fair share of issue. Does criticizing Jenifa/nollywood by comparing it to what's done in other parts of the world suddenly make one a sell out?

By the way, I think its fair to say that Obesere is good music but that Jenifa is not a very well done movie.

And who is saying anything about "paradoxes?" Let's face it. There are places in the world where people are doing interesting things with film while Nollywood still has work to do. I don't know how having that mindset makes one incapable of appreciating Nigerian film art.

That Nollywood still has a long way to go does not mean it is a non-entity. But why should we have to settle for mediocrity when we know that Nollywood is a treasure waiting to happen only if quits acting up.

flygirlbidiish said...

...i was talkin with someone last night who was roped into watchin the movie...he doesn't really like nigerian movies but is a movie freak n was tryin hard to convince me watch slumdog...i'm still thinkin about't...anyway he said the movie was ok to him few lessons taught but why did the comedy like movie end so sad?
...i laffed at the laffable parts and wondered wot on earth was goin on at some certain scenes...i didn't particularly like the end and the beginnin of part2 put me off so i didn't bother watchin further...may still...
whether or not the movie was horrible, whether or not there were noticeable faults...i saw the boom mic drop, there where lighting errors... she still deserved her future award for the movie...
certain lessons were passed on in the cos of the movie and certain truths were brought to light...
so many so called nollywood, bollywood and british movies hav their own sorts of errors and their stories are totally ridiculous
we may not hav the best colourists, screenplay editors, set decorators etc but what we hav we could embrace and then try to improve on them
i really don't think it was
a "slap stick" comedy all the same

miz-cynic said...

lost at the end,

"By the way, I think its fair to say that Obesere is good music but that Jenifa is not a very well done movie.

i take it that u mean d statement above in your own opinion

Writefreak said...

Wow...u wrote a review of Jenifa but reading this makes me thing i did a very shoddy job!
Well done Laspapi!

Iyaeto said...

Laspapi. This is a well written piece. It still goes to show that Jenifa ken ,aiyetoro kan. Because of different reviews, a lot of people have gone out of thier way to watch this movie & from what I've heard, it's still selling fast. ebooo wititi!!(as they say). There is still room for improvement.

Omosewa said...

Yellllzzzzzz, Jenifa rocks my world, oushhhhhhhh!!!

It made and still makes me laugh, and that's all that matters to me.

I like your take on it.

Happy new year Laspapiscosco, long time!

N.I.M.M.O said...

Yes. Let the people speak.

If Jenifa it is, warts and all- then let it be.

dScR?Be said...

as in, i TOTALLY enjoyed the HYPE around the movie b4 i saw it,n I absolutely LOVE how most of my "tush-babe-non-9ja-movie-watching" colleagues have adopted some of Suliat's lingo...

Most of all, her accent is OFF THE WALL... defn was a selling point.. without that component, honestly i feel like the movie will not have been d same without it... as in, oush. yelz

And I don't think the movie was made for the Sundance Film Festival or to be compared with the likes of Thunder Bolt Magun.. i think the movie has done, for the d most part, exactly what it was set out to do..

Warn young girls about becoming bad n following men on campus in addition 2 warning young girls 2 be themselves always

Yes could definitely have done better with the production, as would SEVERAL 9ja movies, including some of our favs...

So Great Job Uncle Wols on this great review and More power 2 Funke Akindele

SHE said...

'Papi,
I think you should have put "spoiler warning" somewhere above your write up, for I havent seen Part 2.
In any case, I agree with those who say there is nothing absolutely fantastic about the movie. But then sometimes, for some weird inexplicable reason, some movies or songs just get to that "tipping point" and then the whole world goes crazy!
I believe that is what has happened here.

Woomie O! said...

aaas in, you know, skuze me?
Who are these people beefing Jenifa???
A o ma see saw!!!
Papi, please make her do something at Terra, anything.
BDW, did you not see that I tagged you??? you will soon be banished from blogville.
I miss you...not whisperer, you!

Dare Idowu said...

I can’t but agree with those who shower encomium on the movie ‘jenifa’ (only on its achievements) despite the fact that I’ve not seen a scene of it. I’m not a fan of 9ja movies though, but my entire clan has seen ‘jenifa’. I know a colleague who wouldn’t mind to narrate the whole story (without with missing even the slightest details of the movie) from a-z!

People criticise an ad; they speak ‘ill’ of it, spread the msg more and more - who does not know that the ad is achieving its aim just by ur effort of spreading the msg. Do u know the no of (stray) home videos u don’t get to see just bcos nobody is talking abt them.

If I had commented immediately after Mogaji, maybe I would have been drawn to her banner. Critiques don’t kill! It’s just another (objective) view and I think Mogaji and any other person who still see ‘jenifa’ as the same “home video” are not haters. If u think they are, maybe u r just too excited to see the truth, maybe!

@laspapi, are u sure ur bejewelled review is not even more interesting than the movie…lol Salute sir! Nice one.
@Funke Akindele, there’s always a big room for improvement. Dedicate the perfect part of ur work to ur fans (those who are crazy abt it & those feel eeeew abt it) let the imperfect part be ur take-home assignment. Thumbs up!

ibiluv said...

forget the sundance festival forget the boom set dropping

i think movies are for entertainment-Jenifa sure kept us entertained

Anonymous said...

I agree with Fineboy Agbero. some movies are just pure entertainment and should be seen as such. Since when did movies become a champion of truth? Even Hollywood has been known to stretch the truth from time to time.

I am tired of the incessant attempts in some quarters to hold Nollywood up to the standards of Hollywood film making. We don't see Bollywood doing that and they are quite successful at what they do in the way they showcase their cultural identity. We should just do our own thing, appreciate and encourage our own. People should stop putting Nollywood down and stop comparing it with western film-making!

pink-satin said...

i must admit when i first watched the movie i couldnt understand the hype at all, then i watched it again and now i am a self acclaimed Jenifa i cant complete a sentence now without saying oush,you know,is like,everytings,

there is room for improvement and the people criticizing the movie are not necessarily haters. everyone has their own opinion...just because it is different from yours doesn't mean it is beef!and just because you enjoyed the movie doesn't mean it is devoid of errors

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Funke Akindele....very funny movie...gbo gbo bigz girlz...i gotz to belongz..
Funke deserved the Best Actress movie for this must watch Jenifa movie..Heads up Suliat kan...Aiye toro kan.....oreee miii...L.M.A.O