Halfway through this film, I had to look up the symptoms of stage 3 cervical cancer. Because one of the main characters reveals that she has cervical cancer and prior to that information (and even after), we never see the realities of what it means to have stage 3 cervical cancer. There isn’t any real detail about the condition or the harrowing treatments involved– the character is able to have intercourse and even becomes pregnant, without awareness on the movie’s part about the complications involved with any of the above. A Sunday Affair wants to tug at your heartstrings and make you emotionally invested in the struggles of the characters, but it is afraid to go into the nitty-gritty of the situation. This kind of approach prevents the film from having any significant impact, and by the time the credits roll, you’ll either be confused, or have forgotten most of what you’ve watched, or both.
A Sunday Affair follows two friends as they fall for the same complicated man. This situation tests their loyalty to each other in the face of a heartbreaking revelation. Toyin (Dakore Akande) and Uche (Nse Ikpe-Etim) have been best friends practically all their lives. The beginning of the film treats us to two different time periods, 1999 and 2009. In the latter timeline, we learn that a young Uche gives up getting together with a guy to stay with Toyin. Her rationale: “There’s going to be other guys…there’s only one us.” Flash forward to Lagos, 2023. They’re attending a wedding by the beach, decked out in all-white. Uche sets her sights on a married man and communicates her intentions to Toyin non-verbally. The pair act like teenagers here, with their smiles and elbow taps– the slightly compelling nature of this friendship is refreshing, one of the good things the movie has going for it.
Not long after, Sunday (Oris Erhuero), the married man from earlier, is caught flirting with another woman by his wife (played by Eku Edewor, who gives the best performance here despite her very limited screen time. I said it in my review of Superstar, and I’ll say it here again: Put Edewor in more starring roles). Sunday meets up with Uche and they have sex at the wedding venue. Their interaction is devoid of chemistry. They don’t feel the least bit self-aware about their act (one of them is married, never mind unhappily), and the whole scene just feels gratuitous (it’s filmed bathed in a red ambience that is about as tacky and on-the-nose as it gets).
A Sunday Affair had to travel a long road to come to reality. According to Mo Abudu, EbonyLife CEO, the film is an original idea that had been kicking around in her head for about 10 years. Crediting Heidi Wena, the creative producer over at EbonyLife, for adding in story ideas and plot points with time, she mentions that Darrel Bristow-Bovey brought it all together, writing the final script. Abudu describes A Sunday Affair as “a lovely, intimate, and mature feature film,” which has been “written and rewritten by several writers, each time adding a layer of richness to the story.” It appears the latter part of that sentence does the film more harm than good.
On a train to Ibadan, Sunday sits down beside Toyin and from their brief interaction, it seems like she secretly admires him. It becomes not-so-secret when after hanging out together, the pair almost share a kiss. I imagine we’re supposed to be rooting for at least one pairing in a love triangle, but here, I found I couldn’t care less about who ends up with Sunday. This is because the plot is more contrivance than organic possession stemming from any motivated character decisions (and yes, we expect some level of hijinks with a romantic film, at least in the setup, but here, everything feels plastic). The performances don’t help either. I’ve witnessed Nse Ikpe-Etim (Glamour Girls) chew scenery and spit it out effortlessly (her scenes with Sola Sobowale’s Eniola Salami in King of Boys: The Return of the King come to mind). I’ve also seen Dakore Akande (Isoken) balance very good dramatic and comedic work (Isoken being the foremost example) but in A Sunday Affair, their delivery feels tepid and uninspired, as if the director told them to search deep within themselves for the least interesting way to represent their characters and go for that. The worst performance here by a mile, however, comes from Oris Erhuero (Road to Yesterday) who plays Sunday like the world’s most boring lady’s man (an oxymoron of sorts you’d think); his name is right there in the title of the film, but at no point does he show anything to hint at the complexity and depth of his character. Everything is at surface level. Everything is artifice. Where are the details?
“The more specific you make something, the more universal it will be,” Greta Gerwig once said. With filmmaking, you need to do more than give only the bones of the story. Whether it’s a thriller or romantic comedy or a high-concept sci-fi story a la Christopher Nolan, the guideline stands. In my review of Soólè, I mentioned how the film’s abrupt tonal shift/genre switch seemed more for the purpose of shock value (nothing wrong with shock done right) than any genuine attempt at subversion. That issue is echoed in A Sunday Affair; once the movie’s “heartbreaking revelation” is out there, the initial shock wears off, and any hopes that the story would explore the implications of that revelation in detail are quickly dashed. (For an impeccable example of a tonal shift/genre switch done right, please see Parasite (2019). For a schlocky version, see From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) written by, and starring Quentin Tarantino.)
I am referring, of course, to the cancer diagnosis. You’re probably wondering how a cancer diagnosis entered this romantic drama story whose initial focus seemed to be its focus was on the love triangle and the brutal nature of matters of the heart. I’m sure that was a result of the too many cooks involved in this broth. One of them probably added it on a rewrite and the ones that came after just didn’t know how to resolve or indeed engage with it on any meaningful level. I have included a link to the symptoms of Stage 3 cervical cancer here as well as the side effects of chemotherapy here. The film is clearly not very interested in the reality of the situation but only in what it can accomplish– i.e make the audience feel something– but it’s only a shortcut; more often than not, with stories (especially drama), you have to go the long way around. If one of the functions of filmmaking is to create compelling emotional circumstances for people to sympathize or empathize with, (and it is) how is the audience supposed to be invested in the cancer storyline if you don’t actually, you know, show the cancer?
There seems to be a trend in a number of Nollywood films where the emphasis is placed more on the situation and themes than on the characters. A lot of them have noble goals in mind: With Tainted Canvas, it was to portray the effects of depression and child abuse; Soólè‘s third act was set in a human traffickers’ den, a decision made to cast a light on that part of the Nigerian criminal underbelly, while Collision Course attempted an exposé on the all-too-prevalent issue of police brutality. However, there is a difference between showing something gritty or controversial on screen and actually exploring it. The same way it is not enough to throw all the top-billed actors you can get your hands on into a film and call it a day (looking at you, Chief Daddy 2), there is very little impact made by simply including a controversial element into a film without saying much (or worse, saying things that are not true) about it. Some examples of films that have blended a depiction of topical issues with solid direction and compelling character work include: King of Boys (2018), The Trade (2023), Eyimofe (2021), Country Hard (2022), Yahoo+ (2022), Isoken (2017), Juju Stories (2022). These films, through their substance and execution, are able to not only present their messages in a compelling manner but also deliver a good deal of entertainment to the audience. A Sunday Affair, sadly, falls into the former camp.
EbonyLife released the film on Netflix on Valentine’s Day, but I’m not sure this is one you want to watch with your partner. Directed by Walter “Waltbanger” Taylaur (Gbomo Gbomo Express), A Sunday Affair lands with a whimper in the company of films that pass by without leaving so much of a trace. I’m genuinely at a loss as to why anyone would ever want to watch this again.
A Sunday Affair is streaming on Netflix.
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- Like the freight train that comes barrelling through the city in that one scene in Inception (2010), the couple’s trip to South Africa comes out of nowhere.
- Why does she decide to travel that late into her pregnancy?
- The cancer reveal also comes out of nowhere, but that’s not really the problem. It’s the fact that not enough steps are taken to actually show the relevant cancer symptoms (apart from some shots of Toyin throwing up, presumably from nausea). All we get is a quick and weak montage. Here, cancer is nothing more than a prop. Something to raise the stakes (it doesn’t) and have Toyin exit the picture so Uche can be with Sunday with no repercussions, and then frame the film as a tragedy. An argument can probably be made that the film shows Uche’s sacrifice and loyalty to her friend in that she gives up her happiness for Toyin’s. My counter-argument would be simple: then why does the film show her still having sex with Sunday when he and Toyin are together?
- Eku Edewor. More roles. Thank you.
- I almost forgot Alexx Ekubo was in this movie, probably because the movie also did.