Tango With Me (Movie Review)

Tango With Me, a movie produced and directed by Mahmood Ali Balogun is a movie with a purpose. One bound to elicit several responses- anger, pity, pain, despair and frustration. Tango With Me is a familiar NollyWood story told in an unfamiliar way. It tells of a couple, Lola (Genevieve Nnaji) and Uzo (Joseph Benjamin) who begin to face the challenges of marriage on their wedding day.  Mahmood Balogun is a master of his craft, he holds the audience by the jugular with suspense and when it feels like we know what’s going on, he goes in for the kill.

Tango With Me was shot with the latest Kodak 35mm camera and production cost over 50 million naira to make. Balogun in an effort to push boundaries travelled to Bulgaria to master film technology. He was determined to do the unconventional by opting for the film against the digital cameras common in NollyWood.  Tango With Me boasts of a robust cast: Genevieve Nnaji, Joseph Benjamin, Joke Silva, Bimbo Akintola, Bimbo Manuel, Ahmed Yerima, Babara Soky, Alex Usifo, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, and Tina Mba.
The movie begins with the couple, Genevieve Nnaji (Lola) and Joseph Benjamin (Uzo) in a marriage counselor’s office. Make no mistake; this is not Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Uzo and Lola are not Russian Spies.  They have real problems. They seem rather nervous and noncommittal at first about their marital issues as they seat in front of the counselor.  The marriage counselor played by Bimbo Manuel (who by the way remains faceless throughout the movie) tries to calm them down. What would bring a newly wedded couple to a marriage counselor after just three months into their marriage? Something ugly happened on the night of the wedding that might prove to destroy the marriage forever. The counselor is curious and the drama begins to unfold.
We are then thrust into a series of flash backs which take us slowly towards the Night of the wedding. Balogun takes us first to a “sorority” meeting where Lola’s upcoming wedding is the topic of discussion. Lola’s friends are happy for her. Lola is about to take the plunge and they want to know how she feels. Marriage is every girls dream come true and they all seem elated. Lola is quizzed about her three-year non-physical relationship with Uzo. It is an open secret that Lola and Uzo did not have sex before marriage. They want to know how she achieved the feat. Lola attributes the victory in the celibacy “battle” to God. She admits it was not easy. One of her friends isn’t taken this lying down; she chides Lola for not testing the “merchandise”. “What if he is not a real man”, another of Lola’s friend asks. Lola is quick to come to the defense of her husband to be. She says he is no virgin but certainly capable. One question that begged to be answered in this scene was how did Lola know this?  It may have been what Uzo told her but the movie should have told us whether the couple had foreplay and to what extent.  Was it a strict celibate relationship or were “other things” involved. Tango With Me is a psychological drama which portrays deep Christian values and beliefs; and subjects such as celibacy and foreplay which are issues people face every day should not have been glossed over. Something should have been said in this regard whether or not it enhanced the plot.
Back in the Counselors office, the couple has agreed to opt for private sessions. Uzo and Lola decide they can’t have the session together. Visiting a marriage counselor was Lola’s idea in the first place and Uzo is not happy about it. He believes couples should solve their own problem.

Lola starts to tell us what happened on the Wedding Night. The Hotel room looks perfect. The three year wait had ended. Uzo comes on to her and makes the first move. Lola seems understandably jittery and reluctant to get into the action. She asks Uzo to allow her have a bath first. She is unsure whether or not she would be good enough for him and prays silently in the bathroom that she is not disappointing. She had always wanted the moment to be perfect. Lola, a virgin wants this night to be perfect and to feel everything she has been told she is supposed to feel.

What Lola felt that night was far from pleasure, and Uzo’s vows were called into question very early in the journey. He fails in his manly duties and his action or non-action has set us on a roller coaster. There is silence in the cinema hall. We like Uzo are all angry and helpless to save the situation and the next scene takes us back into the counselor’s office-we are glad!

One oversight after the hotel room incident is the perceived ignorance of the couple. Marriage may have its problems and nothing prepares us for what life throws but common sense suggests that the first place Uzo and Lola ought to seek immediate intervention should have been the emergency room and not with a shrink. They were obviously people of affluence and  ignorance was an inexcusable reason.  Perhaps it was easier to embrace denial because of the trauma of the hotel room or rather Mr. Balogun probably needed them to be “stupid” to keep his story alive. It didn’t matter, the audience was glued to their seats and their insatiable appetite gasped for more.
The fade-to-black mechanism used to transit from scene to scene becomes boring and a bit distracting. The story now continues chronologically from this point on and their marriage begins to show signs of collapse. Uzo and Lola hate each other and themselves. They see themselves as the enemy. Lola tries to seek the easier way out by attempting suicide. Luckily for us, Uzo is there to save the day.
Lola is at home after a day at work and turns on the TV and it’s the famous Nigerian Televangelist, Late Pastor Bimbo Odukoya who preaches on forgiveness. Mr. Balogun should be commended here. It is one thing to have an idea, it as another to see it carried out to detail and with perfection the way he did.  He could have gotten anybody on the chat box to preach the forgiveness message Tango With Me sought to preach, but he brought a face we all loved (still love) and admire. Also, getting Cyril Stober to read the news on NTA relevant to the events that occurred in the movie was a master stroke from the maestro himself. Nollywood has failed previously by playing VHS tapes when they need to pass messages on screen with TV’s or radio set. This was a major improvement in bringing realism to the screen. Also, the advertisement of Nigerian brands like Arik Air, MTN and HealthPlus (although it looked forced) is commendable.
After Lola hears Pastor Bimbo, she is encouraged and finally begins to come around. She tells Uzo, they should “try again”. It seems a good idea but Uzo hasn’t forgotten his past failure so soon. The memory haunts him and he can’t rise to the occasion. “We don’t have to do anything, we can just hold each other”, Lola says in encouragement.
Lola continues to relay her frustrations to the counselor. Mr. Balogun has kept the identity of the counselor a secret and this is puzzling. Mr. Balogun’s choice of a “ghost” voice may be because he wants people to look to the invisible for help. The counselor may represent a sort of deity we all need to seek when in dire need of help or encouragement. This invisible being should be trusted with every secret and proffer solutions within the ones capabilities and still maintains anonymity. This pushes us to seek for help from a higher authority rather than with our selves. Uzo has done the exact opposite. He has stopped coming for his sessions and looks to himself and turns to liquor and his boss.
Miss Bankole (Tina Mba), Uzo’s boss has taken a liking to him. A two time divorcé follows her cougar instincts and senses the young man’s frailties and invites him to lunch.  The music of Fela: When trouble sleep yanger go wake am, wetin im dey find, palaver you dey find, palaver you go get ti o, is more instructive than entertaining as it plays melodiously in the background as Uzo and this Boss settle to eat in a restaurant. Miss Bankole looks comfortable. The role of the adulteress is played perfectly by Tina Mba.  Miss Bankole looks like she has done this before. She tells Uzo she likes him. They begin to get closer and friendlier. Uzo is no Joseph, he welcomes the challenge.
Core values on the Christian faith are called into question as the movie progresses. The attendant hypocrisy on social issues is brought to light.  Lola decides to move out of her matrimonial home in defiance to her husband’s instructions. Her insistence is silly and laughable as she chooses to hold on to her Christian belief over the sanctity of her home. More people seem to support Uzo here. Lola is on her own.
She goes back to her father’s house; her mother played by Joke Silver is happy to see her but hopes it’s a short stay. Her father Ahmed Yerima doesn’t want to have anything to do with the fiasco. He wants her back in her husband’s house without caring what went wrong.
“I warned you not to marry an Ibo man”, Lola’s father shouts.  This captures the realities of inter-tribal marriages in Nigeria. It didn’t matter whether Uzo was right or wrong, the fact that he was Ibo gave him no chance with Lola’s father. He complains about the astronomical cost of the wedding and insists he will have nothing to do with Uzo and Lola’s separation. But his mood changes later on and he chides his daughter about her impatience with her husband and begins to give her a lesson on patience and endurance using the Tango dance. Yerima holds his wife and uses the dance to explain marriage. The dance may have lightened the mood and given the movie a funny side but really, who decides to dance when his daughter’s three month old marriage is on the verge of collapse?
 Meanwhile Uzo has found comfort in the bosom of his boss. Lola doesn’t want to speak to him again. Lola’s mother is the most pragmatic here. She understands the situation and begins to compromise on her Christian beliefs. She implies every situation is different and that God would understand. Everybody is mad at Lola. Surprisingly here, her friends aren’t the nosy ones. They have decided Lola should open up to them in her own time. There is no “aproko” (especially as they are all unmarried) among them who is ready to cash in on Lola’s failure to keep her man by seducing Uzo like in most NollyWood movies.  It’s nice to see that people can actually have friends who are ready and willing to support them in difficult times. Nigerian women have been portrayed far too many times as usurpers, gold-diggers and a desperate lot who use sex as the only tool for persuasion.
Uzo has begun to grow a beard probably because the guilt and frustration is getting to him. The beard looks like his face was painted. The costume crew probably came late to set that day. Couldn’t they have waited for his beard to grow? Or rather shot the scene with his natural beards first before the shaved scenes. And did Uzo have to look unkempt because his wife left him? The Project Fame co-host who hit the screens first as a child actor in his role as a homeless child in Tales by Moonlight seemed a bit overwhelmed in his role as Uzo. Tango With Me is his first major film as a lead actor and his lack of experience was sometimes evident. He looked more comfortable in his usual TV roles in series like Tinsel, Wale Adenuga’s Super Story and Zeb Ejiro’s TV series Deadly Mission. He has also starred movies (howbeit in smaller roles) alongside Ramsey Noah, Iyama and Ejike Asiegbu in Cross Roads in 1993. However, his overall performance was brilliant.
The cast on Tango With Me was a mixture of the both the old and new generation. It was welcome to see veterans like Alex Usifo and Barbara Soky back on screen.  Joke Silverwas faultless as usual. She brought in her wealth of experience as an actor and a mother in this role. She knew when to be firm and when to be supportive of her daughter. Genevieve related extremely well with Lola in this role. Perhaps events in her personal life as a young teen informed the choice as lead actress.   Ahmed Yerima was the surprise delight as his role as a father was characteristic and sublime.
Tango With Me is a must watch. It is a story of love, and forgiveness. A movie that is sure to provoke you emotionally and intellectually. It is a huge leap in the right direction for NollyWood. We can only hope that others movies follow suit.
©2011 Ewoigbokhan Otaigbe Itua
First Published in the Sun Newspaper of 19/06/2011

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