They say the movie, Tango with Me has been in production since 2009. That information is an oddity and cheering news for an industry that considers haste a virtue, so perhaps the time ‘wasted’ would rid the movie of the flaws that bedevil the industry, the idea being the considerable time spent would leave sufficient time for postproduction where flaws are cut leaving a taut picture for the big screen.
They got that right. Technically, the movie is fine, its beauty amplified by the 35mm camera used; the crew evidently proud of their work take a chunk of time in the opening credits seemingly screaming, there’s division of labour! The director is not the producer is not the DoP is not the scriptwriter! The message is loud and clear, only partly for the audience but mainly for the rest of Nollywood, a visual cri de coeur: this is how it is done; this is how it should be done.
Here’s hoping it would meet open ears.
It is in this department that the film itself soars, apparently because the crew pay obeisance to the almighty 35mm, the picture so crisp there is a conceited need to do several close-ups of the pretty actors on display. The actors themselves are airbrushed to visual perfection- no one strand of hair is out of place even in anguish, even in bed. However, like most apparently flawless objects, the camera draws so much attention to itself that one is tempted to lean in and find cracks. And there are cracks.
Right at the beginning, the use of fading as transition device soon turns abrupt so that the effect is jarring, which rather than emphasise the scenes only suggests an inability to successfully close a scene.
So far, there is no mention of the story in this review and that is because the movie too puts the story on the back burner. Quite simply, the camera is the star, then the airbrushed stars, then the story. But then, what is the story?
Briefly: Despite an electric meet-cute a couple, Lola and Uzor (played by Genevieve Nnaji and a stolid Benjamin Johnson,) manages to be celibate till the wedding night when an act of violence pushes the marriage to the brink causing friends, family and a boss to intrude thus complicating a delicate situation. What do they do? They do a decidedly un-Nigerian thing, they go to a shrink a la Hollywood (though to reinforce the Nigerianness the movie calls him a marriage counsellor) who guides the uneasy couple through the tortuous paths of a troubled marriage. That is all that can be said as it is not possible to discuss the movie without a spoiler, a needless concealment as barely halfway through the film the big secret is revealed.
This is problematic, not just for the reviewer but for the movie itself and then the audience. The former’s problem is obvious; for the movie, the decision is disingenuous, since this kind of suspense is for thrillers not for dramas, so that it fails to be entirely suspenseful once the secret is out and then fails acutely to be a portrayal or keen analysis of a troubled marriage; then the viewer is short-changed as hardly has he settled into the movie when the ‘twist’ hid in all synopses and especially the trailer is revealed and he realizes that the denouement is far away. A case of bad marketing… but if it gets the cinema full, then perhaps it worked?
Perhaps. But it is an aggregation of things like this that undermine the artistic efforts of director Mahmoud Balogun. For an attraction as instant as theirs, it is curious how they avoided the bed before marriage, the lame attempt by Lola to explain it away notwithstanding; other than the need for a pretty face to stand beside Nnaji what exactly qualified Benjamin Johnson for this role? While he may have pulled off co-hosting Project Fame on the tube, the man’s qualities do not carry on the big screen and the chemistry between the leads is near nonexistent- probably why they succeeded at celibacy.
When Mark Zuckerberg was asked about The Social Network, he said, perhaps with a smile, “It’s surprising what they got right…” so too with Tango, where they got Cyril Stober to play himself casting news, though the gory pictures accompanying the news would never make it into the real NTA news bulletin. This is certainly a leaf borrowed from Hollywood’s playbook (alongside its relentless Mtn product placement). The effort to get it right is worthy of applause. But the trouble with levelling fierce praise at fares such as this is the tendency to dip into hyperbole as already some are chanting that this is the movie to revolutionize Nollywood.
Maybe technically. But then, it isn’t the first movie to use celluloid, Kelani, Amata, Afolayan have dallied with it. So there is bad news: this is not it.
At best it is a false dawn. Certainly Nollywood can do worse than learn a novel narrative device, some technique, fancy camera handling and its present equipment could do with some updating, still there is not too much to learn in terms of story and plot devices. Why? Well, because a lot of the usual Nollywood suspects are here.
Firstly, like everything in the movie, the song(s) are polished till shine but again it is style over substance as the movie is guilty of turning the soundtrack into little more than the script with some melody. This lyrical over-simplification ruins what is a fine musical production. There is however a delightful use of a Fela song.
Secondly, incredulity: without giving too much away, it is hard to believe that highbrows like the couple would err in not seeking medical help after the events in the pivotal scene. And it becomes silly when Lola takes a decision that would irk all but the most unreasonable of feminists.
Again, the supporting characters are not developed enough to stand up to the leads except for Joke Silva (as Lola’s mother) who overacts initially but manages to settle down to deliver a subtle performance in later scenes; her husband (played by Ahmed Yerima) steals the only scene he had space after catapulting himself into an inappropriate, illogical but strangely winning dance- from where the movie forcibly derives its title. Even in the face of all that is wrong, much like the daughter, the audience might just smile.
Then, in aiming for Hollywood, Balogun decides to rake up issues that are not particularly contentious in Nigeria: the abortion (“It’s my body”, says Lola), adoption debate is not one to provoke passionate argument here- most people know where they stand on these issues and it is highly unlikely that this movie would cause a reassessment. Whatever it is, it is not a movie to stir a debate. Most likely, the audience would leave the cinema same way they came; the issues so couched in the attractive 35mm wrapper that the said issues wouldn’t even come up on the drive home. And if while in the cinema, you feel somewhat alienated from the couple’s plight, don’t blame yourself, the people here are too well-spoken, too rich, too airbrushed and too silly to be everyday people.
Perhaps as overcompensation for the Americanization of the issues, director Balogun renders a stereotypical Nigerian view of a successful career woman: Uzor’s boss (competently portrayed by Tina Mba) is a twice divorcee who speaks longingly about love and companionship, while clearly after forbidden sex. It may seem pro-feminist to have a female supporting character going after what she wants strongly, but it really is veiled chauvinism.
Finally, there is an unmistakable flaw that fingers the movie as standard Nollywood fare. But first, some praise.
The script has some clever dialogue, even when it feels intended for stage rather than screen and the screenplay squeezes in a double entendre. There is also a remarkable scene where Uzor washes his hands, ostensibly as a postprandial ritual but the accompanying dialogue tells of a deeper implication.
That flaw referred to earlier, is its preachiness, that feature of lazy scriptwriting that makes employs God as a deus ex machina and has seen dozens of Nollywood movies end in a church. In latter scenes in Tango, every bit character contributes their bit, nearly turning the movie into a near two hour sermon, the type where the congregation has to stifle a yawn out of politeness; thankfully the cinema hall does not thrive on political correctness. It gets to a head when a lecherous character mouths her brand of holiness because it is okay to be Mouth Zion Film Ministries, but when one pays for a ticket to a movie directed by a director with a name as ambiguous Mahmoud Balogun, chances are, one expects an artistic experience rather than a homily; not that they are mutually exclusive but historically both seldom jell.
So the film’s fairytale denouement and its need to put in a Message sees it bogged down in Nollywood mire. In fact, when the end credits roll and you see to whom the movie is dedicated, you may sigh and say: “No wonder.”