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.