By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
6:45 PM EDT, September 19, 2013
"Mother of George" is an unexpected gem about true love, infertility and a meddling mother-in-law. The couple under duress is part of Brooklyn's close-knit Nigerian immigrant community. Not a side of that borough we usually see.
But it is the kind of distinctive, culture-driven drama from emerging filmmakers that I wish we saw more of. Darci Picoult's screenplay is refreshingly spare and alive with energy in director Andrew Dosunmu's hands.
The Nigerian-born Dosunmu knows the New York immigrant experience firsthand. He got his start directing videos for Common, Wyclef Jean and Aaron Neville among others, and he splits his time between the city and his birthplace, Lagos.
In his first film, 2011's "Restless City," love is a complication for an immigrant artist playing music around New York's fringes. In "Mother of George," Adenike (Danai Gurira) and Ayodele (Isaach De Bankole) are very much in love. Conflicting cultures are the problem.
It begins with a traditional Nigerian wedding in a crowded Brooklyn apartment. The idea of children — one who will be named George — is woven throughout the words blessing their union. The colors are vibrant; the couple are beautiful. As their ideas about life in this land evolve, the images on-screen move between blurred and crisp, underscoring confusion and clarity. Cinematographer Bradford Young won the top prize at Sundance in January for his work on this film and another, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints."
Despite their best efforts, 18 months after the wedding there is still no baby. Adenike's mother-in-law (Bukky Ajayi) presses a bitter tea, a visit to a shaman, and the idea of letting her son take another woman. This does not sit well.
The film keeps circling around the clash over cultural mores. Desperation leads the young woman to a fertility doctor. For Ayodele, his very identity is wrapped up in his ability to give his wife children. The family's resistance to even discussing medical options triggers a ripple effect no one expects.
And then Adenike finds that she is expecting. But like a wheel within a wheel, the pregnancy only compounds the difficult family dynamic.
Though the family is an extended one — Ayodele's brother, Adenike's best friend, a range of loose relations — husband, wife and mother-in-law are the movie's superb core.
Gurira, better known for her work in AMC's "The Walking Dead," first caught my eye as part of an apartment-occupying couple in "The Visitor" with Richard Jenkins. She is exceptional here as a woman determined to find a way to become the "Mother of George."
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