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“The Bride Price” Wrestles With Cultural Traditions, Lacks Clarity

Nigerian cinema has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years, with more films exploring the nation’s rich cultural tapestry and traditions.
April 6, 2024
7:14 am
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“The Bride Price” had the intriguing premise of delving into the complex practice of giving a dowry to a bride’s family during traditional Igbo marriages. However, this comedic drama struggles to find a clear thematic focus, getting bogged down in tonal whiplash and a meandering narrative that fails to deliver fully on its satirical intentions.


The story follows Aloysius (Zubby Michael), an unassuming spare parts dealer hopelessly smitten with the educated, upper-class Adannaya (Beverly Ukegbu). When her wealthy professor father (Nkem Owoh) disapproves of their union, he devises an excessive 25-page list of exorbitant bride price demands seemingly designed to sabotage the marriage. Despite Adannaya’s pleas, the determined Aloysius resolves to meet every outrageous stipulation – no matter how much he must sacrifice – in order to prove his love and earn her hand.


On its surface, “The Bride Price” clearly wants to poke fun at the antiquated practice of objectifying women through transactional payments to their families. There’s ripe satirical material in watching the well-meaning but obstinate Aloysius impoverish himself in pursuit of these increasingly absurd marital “prices” that feel contradictory to modern values.


Zubby Michael brings an earnest, sympathetic reserve to the role that lets us invest in his humble character’s plight even as the scenario grows more ridiculous.


Zubby Michael

Unfortunately, the filmmakers can’t quite decide if they want to fully embrace a biting comedic takedown of the patriarchal tradition or present a more dramatic exploration of the cultural tensions it creates between generations. The tonal mix of broad slapstick humor colliding with heavier emotional family melodrama ends up muddling the overall perspective and blunting the intended impact.


Despite strong supporting turns from veteran comic actors like Nkem Owoh hamming it up as the arrogant professor, the uneven writing undermines many of the biggest comedic set pieces. With Aloysius’ quest to raise funds for the bride price devolving into repetitive, unfocused scenarios of him pawning off possessions or begging relatives, the payoffs rarely live up to their setups. You can sense the filmmakers straining to mine laughs from a paper-thin premise that fundamentally lacks a strong point of view.


At other times, dialogue dips into clunky melodrama and strained romantic clichés in a bid for a heartfelt family substance that doesn’t quite gel with the screwball antics. A late-film third-act development that finds Aloysius disowning Adannaya’s bribery-seeking family seeds intriguing dramatic potential around cultural clashes, gender roles, and the emotional toll of upholding tradition. But it ends up feeling like an afterthought tacked onto the slapped-together climax rather than the thematic focal point it should have been all along.


While it scores some points for representation in bringing an indigenous Igbo story to the big screen, “The Bride Price” disappoints by failing to choose a clear lane for its satire. Is this meant to be a broad comic subversion of antiquated marriage rituals or a more grounded emotional dissection of the complicated family tensions they can create? By straddling the line between both aims, it ends up not fully accomplishing either in a satisfying way.


Olayode Juliana

There are glimmers of smart cultural commentary scattered throughout the mundane narrative detours, such as the film’s ruminations on modern class divide or the surprising bursts of solidarity between wives over the objectification aspects of bride prices. But these insightful moments get drowned out by too many tepid subplots. For instance, Beverly Ukegbu’s educated romantic lead gets sidelined for long stretches, and the flat improvisational riffing fails to deliver consistent laughs or dramatic heft.


Admittedly, “The Bride Price” deserves some credit for its ambition to put a spotlight on timely conversations around evolving gender norms clashing with traditionalism. And for fans of the ensemble cast, there’s some amusement in watching this deep bench of veteran Nigerian comic talents reunite and jostle for laughs, even if the material doesn’t always meet their talents.


Ultimately though, this messy marital dramedy never quite figures out what kind of movie it wants to be – leaving it feeling like a discordant tonal mismatch that pulls its punches on any substantive cultural critiques. Nigerian cinema deserves more nuanced satires that can tackle these complex societal issues around marriage and gender roles with both humor and heart. “The Bride Price” only scratches the surface of that potential.


The Bride Price

Release Date: March 29, 2024

Runtime: 1 hour, 37 minutes, and 16 seconds

Streaming Service: Prime Video

Director: Okechukwu Oku

Cast: Nkem Owoh, Akinola Akano, Funny Bone, Adedayo Davies, Uche Nwakuche, Kemi Ikuseedun, Olayode Juliana, Zubby Michael, and Beverly Ukegbu

TNR Scorecard:


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