A good thing, it is said, cannot possibly remain hidden or in obscurity forever. In the case of Nollywood actress Nse Ikpe-Etim, this could hardly be truer. Her thespian star continues to grow in such a way that one can no longer ignore her acting prowess or discuss her honestly as a side dish in Nollywood. Mr. & Mrs., one of her more recent movies certainly makes a good case for her in this regard.
Mr. & Mrs. is a romantic drama featuring Nse as Mrs. Kenneth Abah and Benjamin Joseph as her irreverent husband. The movie tells the story of a much-maltreated young woman who decides to repair her lopsided marital relationship with her domineering, class-obsessed husband by seizing a lifeline inadvertently thrown her way by the husband and his overbearing mother. Susan, a drycleaner’s daughter (well, to the Abahs he is a washman but Susan insists he be called drycleaner) meets and falls in love with Kenneth, the son of a politician and they eventually get married. As Ken’s father’s political fortunes improve, Ken convinces Susan to become a fulltime housewife since, courtesy his getting more oil blocks, Ken now makes “enough money to take care of a community”.
Things, however, turn sour as Ken begins to treat Susan with disdain. He even cheats on her blatantly and torments her verbally, reminding her of her “wretched” background. Once, following a quarrel, he tells her she can leave the marriage if she feels uncomfortable with the state of affairs. His mother (played by Barbara Soky) also encourages him to divorce the “ingrate”. Emotionally-drained, Susan consults a counsellor, Mrs. Brown, a psychologist-cum-lawyer. Subsequently, what Ken initially planned as a mere threat to make Susan meeker and more sober quickly grows beyond his control. To the surprise of mother and son, Susan insists she also wants out of the marriage, this coming at a time when Ken’s father is vying for governorship. So, while Ken’s mother wants a divorce, she also craves assurance that no resultant scandal would affect her husband’s chances at the polls. She thus proposes a compromise in which, although the couple would be officially divorced, they must remain in Ken’s house and pretend to still be married until after the election. Susan gleefully accedes, but Ken, taken aback by her enthusiastic accord, hesitates until his mum and Mrs. Brown cajole him. Under the arrangement, Mrs. Brown grants the couple confidential divorce and they are to live in separate wings of the same house with not the slightest obligation to each other.
An amusing, interesting chain of events follows as, unbeknownst to the Abahs, Susan and Mrs. Brown contrive a mock divorce so that while Ken’s mother is convinced Susan is towing the line she has drawn and a now-regretful Ken lives in fear of losing his dear wife after the election, mother and son are, in reality, merely naïve pawns in Susan’s well-choreographed efforts to get her man back in line. And for good effect, Susan becomes a seemingly carefree woman, keeping late nights and frequent all-nights. A contrite Ken makes numerous sometimes comical attempts at winning her back, only succeeding when, satisfied she has reformed him enough and now even afraid of losing him if her game goes any farther, Susan accepts his pleas. They take their vows again for a “redefined” marriage.
Subtle humour abounds in Mr. & Mrs., merging seamlessly with social commentary. Particularly impressive is how the film manages to pass a serious social message in a relaxed, feel-good way while not watering down the quality of the acting or compromising the seriousness of the intended message. Not often are Nigerian films able to achieve this. Also, the fact that the movie ended in just the one instalment in these days of movies of multiple parts in Nollywood is refreshing indeed. With an interesting main plot coupled with the secondary storyline of Charles and Linda’s own peculiar marriage, it could easily have stretched to a second part had the makers towed the fad line.
Also interesting tonote is that the movie’s cast does not tick the who’s-who column of acting talent in Nollywood. In fact, apart from Nse, Soky, Benjamin and Thelma Okoduwa who stars as Linda, the rest reads more like a definitive roll call of the obscure with the likes of Linda Nwosu as Mrs. Brown, Paul Apel, Nonye Ike and Beauty Benson. Mpetla Mpie, an actress of Southern African origin also stars as Monica, Ken’s mistress. Yet, aside from Mpie whose acting was suspect, as well as Apel who looked distinctly uncomfortable in his role as Charles, Linda’s husband, it is an impressive acting shift by every member of the cast although most of them with small roles.
However, the one actor who arguably holds the movie’s plot together not necessarily because of her lead role, is Nse. She simply stands out with her magical screen presence, sophistication and talent-oozing interpretation of her role. Her portrayal of pain and anguish as an enslaved housewife really dazzles and shines through in a convincing manner. And the capable manner she transits from projecting misery and agony as a scorned woman to then depicting a lively, carefree and unabashed, flirtatious ‘self-suffragette’ is really praiseworthy and stands out as a big plus for the movie. Many of Hollywood’s leading ladies may look at her role with a glance of approval. Also evident in Mr. & Mrs, as in Nse’s many previous acting roles is the calm naturalness in her acting, devoid of the artificial air that one can frequently associate with many contemporary leading ladies in Nollywoood. Nse seems to be able to project passion and emotion of different sort without going overboard or coming short (well, coming too short). Her effortless command of English coupled with her obvious good looks certainly lends more power to her on-screen wow factor, just as her ‘chameleonic’ appearance must be a costumier’s delight as she seems to, with the least make-up and costume change, easily fit into quite a few female roles – single lady, married woman, it-girl, oppressed woman, etc. One potential glitch though: Given the tendency to have her in mainly romantic roles so far, one just hopes that Nse doesn’t fall victim of type-casting as perhaps, Nollywood’s version of the perpetual romantic heroin.
As for Mr. & Mrs., there are also a few other pluses most notably in the dialogue and diction. The lines involving the three Abahs and the lawyer are wonderful while the exchanges between Susan and Ken are simply divine. It was certainly a big plus to have the linguistic fluency and grammatical control of Soky, Benjamin, Nse and even Okoduwa on board as far as dialogue is concerned. Nse and Benjamin in particular, truly brought their respective lines to life with their articulation. The casting of Mpetla is also not without its merits. Casting an actual Southern African complete with that distinct Southern African accent, for a Mosotho (someone from Lesotho) certainly added authenticity to her character as Monica, Ken’s mistress. Even Apel also seem to make up for his shaky acting skills with a good editing job of the film.
However, there is a bit of artistic inconsistency towards the end of the movie. One instance is in the penultimate scene where Susan’s expression of joy on receiving a car gift from her father-in-law after the renewal of her vows with Ken seems over-the-top and completely antithetic to the Susan the viewer is earlier made to recognise – strong-willed, unimpressionable and critical of her father-in-law’s manner of wealth. Then again, maybe it is just as well to show that many people will generally castigate a system only when it’s convenient to do so, especially if they don’t benefit
from the system, but then they would turn a blind eye and even revel in and try to justify a wrong state of affairs so long as the status quo services their personal interests.
In the final analysis though, keeping a few lighting issues with some of the day scenes aside, Mr. & Mrs. is a very watchable movie with an uncomplicated plot as one of its key strengths. It certainly does no harm to Nollywood or the talents of Ikechukwu Onyeka as its director or the movie production abilities of Chinwe Egwuagu. Even more resoundingly, it adds more glow to Nse Ikpe-Etim’s steadily growing star quality.