Mother of George starts with a Nigerian wedding in Brooklyn that is beautiful and almost otherworldly. This memorable opening sequence is shot in a low-key style, in a dark room with highlights bouncing off the glossy and colorful traditional attire of the attendants. Director Andrew Dosunmu (Restless City) and cinematographer Bradford Young (Pariah, Ain't Them Bodies Saints) fill their widescreen frame with tight close-ups of faces and details, presented in extremely shallow focus. (In fact, there are very few wide shots in the entire film.) The stylization can be disorienting, but it's also fairly intoxicating.
The happy bride is Adenike (The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira), who was just brought over by her new husband, budding restauranteur Ayodele (The Limits of Control's Isaach De Bankolé). As the guests dance, celebrate, and drink toasts to the couple, a theme starts to emerge from the well-wishers: now that you're blissfully wedded, start making babies. Ayodele's mother (Bukky Ajayi) is particularly adamant that the couple have a son named George Babatunde, after her late husband. Still basking in the glow of their glorious new marriage, Adenike and Ayodele have no trouble falling into bed with each other. But when Adenike takes a pregnancy test and it comes up negative, it feels like a harbinger that it is only going to get tougher from here.
Several months pass, and Adenike has trouble navigating between her traditional background and these new-fangled American ways. Her successfully assimilated friend, Sade (Yaya Alafia), takes Adenike shopping for a new top and Adenike becomes horrified by its transparency, but she gives in to Sade's goading and buys it anyway. When she shows up to Ayodele's restaurant wearing the see-through top, and Ayodele is horrified too, the sequence is poignant. It also points to the central tension of both the story and the shallow-focus visuals of the film: while Adenike now lives within a new larger landscape, she's isolated within the world of her husband and his family. The film really only has five main characters: the main couple, the mother-in-law, the friend, and Ayodele's brother Biyi (Tony Okungbowa), who helps in the restaurant and secretly dates Sade.
This makes the disappointment even more intense when a year and a half passes, and the couple is still unable to conceive a baby. Ayodele refuses to go to the doctor, to find out which one of them is the cause of the difficulty. His mother makes Adenike drink smelly fertility teas and keeps suggesting that she just let her husband sleep with another woman, so there can be a grandchild. Eventually, the mother's mercenary determination to see that a baby gets born leads to drastic complications in the lives of all five characters. The script by Darci Picoult never feels contrived, but a queasy sense of tragic inevitability accompanies every development in the plot. Similarly, the actors play every scene so realistically that it is truly wrenching to see how this situation tears them apart. Needless to say, while Mother of George is beautifully shot, it stops feeling quite so glorious after those opening scenes.
Presented in 2.35:1 16x9 widescreen, the DVD looks pretty great overall. The image is generally quite dark -- on the commentary, director Andrew Dosunmu says he wanted to use indigo as the base of the color palette for the film -- but the transfer generally reproduces saturated colors and strong, nuanced black levels. There are a few flagrant instances of the blacks crushing, though, which makes me wonder if the QC guy was asleep at the switch for a couple of shots. Otherwise, this is a beautiful standard-def presentation of a stylishly shot film.
Available in Dolby 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 mixes, the soundtrack is incredibly atmospheric, even in its numerous dialogue- and music-free moments. A lot of care has been taken to create a sonic space that matches the half-dreamy/half-naturalistic visuals of the film. Portions of the dialogue are spoken in the characters' native tongue, Yoruba, so there are optional English subtitles for just those moments and also an English SDH track for all of the dialogue.
- Audio commentary with director Andrew Dosunmu, editor Oriana Soddu, and costume designer Mobolaji Dawodu - A good-spirited track, with the three long-time collaborators providing plenty of insights into the production of the film. Very enjoyable, with almost no dead air.
- A Human Story (19:11) - An interview featurette with writer/producer Darci Picoult and star Danai Gurira. They discuss the genesis of the project, including the workshopping process at the Sundance Labs.
- Deleted Scenes (8:35) - Mostly just brief character moments cut from the film, without a final sound mix. The only major moments cut here show the mother to have an even greater responsibility for the final events of the film.
Mother of George is a beautifully crafted examination of the tension between assimilation and tradition, and the impact that conflict can have on a fragile network of human relationships. While the overall tone is a little too sober for my taste, and the film's conclusion feels frustratingly anti-climactic, this unique production comes Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and lifelong movie buff. Check out his new experimental music project, Duck the Piano Wire.