In many cultures, eager parents of adult couples shamelessly nag their kids about when they’re going to give them a grandchild. In traditional Nigerian culture, parents may not only nag, but dictate how many babies the woman’s going to have, what she’s going to name her firstborn (which, of course, has to be a boy), provide her with nasty-tasting fertility elixirs, send her to a shaman, and, if none of those tried-and-true methods work, urge her to let her husband pick another woman who’ll get the damn job done.
Directed by Andrew Dosunmu and penned by Darci Picoult, Mother of George details the plight of Adenike (Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead), a Nigerian newlywed who immediately starts getting busy with her husband, Ayodele (Isaach De Bankolé), to conceive the son to be named George. (And after that, twins.) Ayodele runs a restaurant in Brooklyn, so there’s even more pressure on Adenike to pop one out because he spent a lot of money to bring her to the States.
Months go by, the EPT continues to read negative, and Adenike becomes desperate. Her friend, Sade (Yaya Alafia), clues her in on fertility specialists—-she had no idea it might be the man who can’t have children—-and, anguished, makes a radical decision in an attempt to keep her husband.
Adenike’s choice is sorta Nigerian, sorta American, and Dosunmu makes this visually obvious with irritatingly frequent out-of-focus scenes. (Blurred images equals the blurring of cultures. We get it.) But too often this approach, along with unusual perspectives during conversations (or conversations almost completely muffled by music), makes it difficult to catch all the details. Overall, the film’s look is dark, whether a simple night scene or indoor shots with low lighting. You shouldn’t have to squint to understand what’s going on.
What comes across clearly, however, is the strength of the two lead performances. Gurira’s Adenike is subservient to her husband, yet eventually learns to assert her independence and find a strength of self to make their home a happy one. De Bankole’s Ayodele, meanwhile, is occasionally tender but more often the foot-down, don’t-question-me man of the house, the type who is insulted by the idea of his wife working. The anger that flashes across the character’s face makes Adenike’s bravery all the more impressive. Their union increasingly weakens, but for divorce-happy American viewers, this is a portrait of a marriage they won’t soon forget.