- Just Not Married by Uduak Obong-Patrick
Overnight moneybags pop up daily in Lagos, much like the glittering skyscrapers that mysteriously appear on the city’s constantly morphing skyline. Their success stories are usually a hard sell that Nollywood of yore would most likely have tagged “blood money” from “get-rich-quick rituals.”
Advanced fee fraud (the online scam commonly known as 419) and online dating scams also remain popular options for those seeking easy money, but for the band of neophytes in Just Not Married, stealing cars is their preferred ticket to wealth. Depressed by his mother’s failing health and seeing no future in school, Duke, the film’s protagonist, has a bright idea just as his older brother Victor completes a jail sentence for armed robbery. Played ably by Stan Nze, Duke is the kind of antihero you silently find yourself rooting for. He co-opts his friends—failed mechanic Lati (Rotimi Salami) and frustrated hair stylist Keji (Judith Audu)—into his get-rich-quick scheme and they pick up from where Victor (Obutu Rowland) left off, despite the latter’s advice to the contrary. In contrast to Victor’s belief that nothing has changed during his six years’ absence, Duke decides that it is time that everything changes. Armed with just the right tools for an introductory art class (markers, cardboard, and colored ribbons), Duke and his gang embark on a spate of thefts that target specific cars.
In Lagos, where weddings are a big social and celebratory deal, not even policemen on patrol would stoop to besmirch a new couple’s day of joy. The trio’s modus operandi takes advantage of this breach: they dress up as newlyweds and decorate the stolen cars accordingly in order to elude the unpopular men in black. As ingenious and childish as the ruse is—and hardly plausible in reality—the thieves’ success is a satirical hint at some kind of social and security problem.
Victor continues to counsel Duke against crime, but the latter’s aversion to poverty is only reinforced by the weight of personal trauma that hangs [End Page 317] heavy around him. At the point when Duke declares, “I know me and I can’t be poor,” it is beyond doubt that the film’s family-oriented protagonist has come full circle from mama’s boy to mini-mobster. The acrimony between the brothers deepens, and disagreements soon rear their heads among the three young thieves. It becomes obvious that old and new liaisons can be equally dangerous.
Just Not Married suggests comparisons with a number of crime films from the continent. As with the eponymous antihero in Gavin Hood’s Oscar-winning Tsotsi (2005), the need to solve personal problems drives Duke to crime. Nairobi Half Life (dir. David Gitonga, 2012), Hijack Stories (dir. Oliver Schmitz, 2001) and Jerusalema: Gangsters’ Paradise (dir. Ralph Ziman, 2008) are similar survival stories about “accidental criminals” locked in a battle against a trident of poverty, greed, and violence.
While lacking the visual mastery of some of these films, Just Not Married boldly encapsulates the squalor, despair, death, desperation, and raw ambition that characterize the ghetto’s peculiarities as part of a larger metropolis. Much like C. J. Obasi’s zombie-ridden slum in the horror thriller Ojuju (2014), the Lagos suburb, where the film is set, exists as its own cosmos.
The film’s director, Uduak Obong-Patrick, does not limit one’s view of Lagos, though. Using overhead shots often, he shows the city as one constantly on the move, an ironic juxtaposition to Victor’s initial post-prison position that nothing ever changes. What, then, is the purpose of all this motion?
The ode to the city continues through Lati as metaphor. The constant chatterbox, braggart, and loyal friend is a fitting pointer to how Lagos can be loud and scary yet carefree and embracing. Despite his exaggerated acting, Salami, as Lati, provides part of the film’s soundtrack by suddenly breaking into song...