The Nigerian film industry loves the comedy form. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s frequently foolish.
But foolishness has its uses. The last time somebody put a foolish Nigerian on the big screen, he made so much money his film ended up in Guinness World Records as highest earning Nollywood film at the box office. That somebody was the comedian AY; the film was 30 Days in Atlanta—a film that irked so many but drew many more to the cinemas.
It would be unfair to say foolishness was that film’s strong point. It wasn’t. AY put an average, albeit silly, Nigerian as the centre of his film. That average Nigerian was called Akpos, and before his cinematic debut, he had become the Nigerian everyman in jokes that showed up online. He was played by the comedian Bovi Ugboma as a clever but clueless character on AY’s comic version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. But when it was time for Akpos’s appearance in Nollywood, AY chose to play the character himself. The rest is Guinness and Nollywood history.
This background is not necessary to enjoy the film It’s Her Day, but it has some relevance because over the years Bovi has proven to be the very best of Nigerian comedians, even if he is (or acts like he is) not aware of his position. AY is a lesser talent with better PR and showbiz connections; Basketmouth, once the best, now is complacent. The country’s other comedians are more or less more names than quality.
With It’s Her Day, Bovi seeks to re-enact the success of 30 Days. He was the original Akpos; now he can be something else: something he has written himself. Forget the theory that says a director owns a film. Aniedi Anwah directs It’s Her Day. But when a Nigerian comedian writes and stars in a film, you better believe he is the auteur.
Bovi plays Victor who has just returned with his girlfriend Nicole (Ini Dima-Okojie) from the west. She is a rich girl; he is a guy from a poor family who has made it. This matchup sets the stage for high drama—from which Bovi extracts comedy. He wants to give her the “fairy tale wedding she desires”. His friend Omonigho (Gregory Ojefua) objects but is told that “The wedding is not going to be as expensive as you think it is.” Being a Nigerian male, Victor needs to impress. As he says, “I need to let them know say boys dey represent since 1892.”
Clearly, he’s overreaching. The bills pile and pile. And for all of the money he’s supposed to have, Victor is not the most stylish or gaudy individual. His fiancée by contrast is luminous and flashy. Her family is filled with bratty siblings, all female. She is a glamour-hound, prone to selfies and seeking to capture each part of her life online. She hates his friend Omonigho who is fat, bearded and a touch shabby for her family. “He’s ugly and he’s cocky,” they say.
Omonigho hates them back, and takes Victor to Angela, his former girlfriend, played subtly and wonderfully by Omoni Oboli. Angela, with a name that hints at her divine qualities is what Nigerians call “wife-material.” She diagnoses Victor’s problem. “You are funny, you make people laugh,” she says, but adds that he is “so ashamed of [his] background.” This line is uttered so matter-of-factly, one would be forgiven for entertaining the thought that what Bovi has written here is autobiographical, at least psychologically. At the minimum, he can identify with Victor at far as humble beginnings go, and if the film was written in 2004 as Bovi has said, then perhaps he channelled some of his pre-fame experience into the narrative.
No matter. The difference between Oboli’s Angela and Dima-Okojie’s Nicole is one of the three central relationships framing the film. The other two are between Victor and Nicole, and Victor and Angela.
Although given less time, the Victor/Angela relationship is the best in the film because Bovi meets his equal in Oboli: she is as good an actress here as he is a comedian. The others are played for easy laughs since, of course, the rich girlfriend is exaggerated for effect, to ensure the audience knows who to root for.
There is some sexism at play considering how bitchy and vain Nicole is—but the balanced portrayal by Oboli helps the film evade some accusations of misogyny. There is also the portrayal of Victor’s Aunty Fowe, who is what you have been told middle-aged women from south-south Nigeria are like. The actress Enajite Dede inhabits this character, managing to distract the viewer from the role’s stereotype. Dima-Okojie is committed but her character is a hyper-spoilt cartoon, leaving her with too little to work with.
Nonetheless the film’s focal point is Bovi. A stand up comic, his best turn is a monologue delivered to his fiancée. His face, as it moves from resigned to quizzical to pissed is the star. It was always his weapon as Akpos, along with his quips. His scenes with Oboli are excellent—there’s both chemistry and a subdued comedy in their exchange.
It’s Her Day doesn’t always work, and sometimes the comic timing is off: There’s a supposedly clever meta-scene where Victor makes unflattering comments about Bovi, which really should be funny but is poorly written.
Also the editing within scenes is often jarring. But It’s Her Day is needed criticism, even if one-sided and pro-male/groom, of the Nigerian wedding industry. It is also quite funny, sometimes fast, and never quite as foolish as it could be in the hands of lesser talents than Bovi, the reigning king of Nigerian comedy.
-A version of this review appears online at This is Africa. Aigbokhaevbolo is winner of the AFRIMA award for Entertainment Journalism.