Mother of George has garnered a rarer-than-rare 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating from critics. Sorry to be the cynical spoiler.
Mother of George, directed by Andrew Dosunmu. At Kendall Square Cinema and other movie houses around New England.
By Gerald Peary
Filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George opens superbly, with a leisurely shot Nigerian wedding in Brooklyn, in which the film audience is a guest for an ethnographic treat: glorious traditional costumes, juju music, savory food served from hot plates, and dancing and banter from the gathered guests. The bride is Adenike (Danai Gurira, TV star of Treme and The Walking Dead) and the groom is Ayodele (Isaach De Bankolè, featured in the films of Claire Denis and Jim Jarmusch). This is the USA, so the connubial couple are actually in love. The husband listens good-naturedly as his male friends tease him with ideas of two-timing his wife (“When a goat strays…”). The bride listens dutifully while her busybody mother-in-law chides her with a need to get busy with pregnancy, the first child, of course, a boy. The mother-in-law has picked out already an American name: George.
When the ceremony is finally over, the couple retires to their boudoir. Each unwraps the other’s robe in the last Nigerian marital ritual, and then there is ecstatic sex, capping this blissful day and night.
Mother of George has garnered a rarer-than-rare 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating from critics. Sorry to be the cynical spoiler. Though I’ve never before seen a Nigerian-American feature, this one smelled, even in those enticing introductory scenes, directly on track to the familiar. Movies which foreground family ethnicity, whether Jewish, Hispanic, Arabic, African, etc., have their own worn-out tropes. I could bet with safety that the husband would prove to be more traditional than he seems, and, for example, not want his wife to work and disapprove of her “transparent” dress. I knew that his wife would become stifled by her prescribed female roles, especially in anything-goes New York. She hangs about with an Americanized, model-looking girlfriend. As for all that matrimonial happiness: it’s a glaringly obvious setup by screenwriter Darci Picoult for impending disaster.
The real agony occurs when Adenike can’t get pregnant and prideful Ayodele won’t see a medical doctor, worried that he’s the infertile one. The meddlesome mother-in-law steps forward and supplies Adenike with several horrific plans. One, shades of African polygamy, her dear son could sleep with another woman and have a child that way for both of them. Two, Adenike could bed down with, and get impregnated by, Ayodole’s cocksure brother. “It’s the same blood!” the mother-in-law exclaims, melodramatically. “Only a woman knows who the real father is.”
Melodrama is close to opera, and Mother of George honestly might work better with an operatic score, for all the brooding, pain, and masochism in its second half, and with its host of guilt-ridden, isolated characters. Arias, anyone? An opera would demand an exciting, full-on, resolved climax replacing what’s so lazy about the film: it’s annoyingly inconclusive ending.
Gerald Peary is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of 9 books on cinema, writer-director of the documentary For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess.