by Wilfred Okiche

An uptight middle-aged corporate executive flies to Abuja from Lagos for an all-important make or break meeting with a government minister and is to return same day. What he does not bargain for is meeting a brick wall in the form of the minister’s cantankerous secretary, having to add extra days to his planned trip and engaging in a dalliance with a beautiful but pushy youth corper.

Directed by Mildred Okwo, working from a screenplay by Tunde Babalola, ‘The Meeting’ comes gift wrapped as a light weight romantic comedy but actually has much more to offer, reining in the viewer and guiding them past the clunky first quarter, into the superb midsection and on into the unoriginal albeit convenient ending.

Femi Jacobs and Linda Ejiofor (both of Mnet television series, ‘Tinsel’ fame) play the leads and although they enjoy delightful chemistry between them, their May-December romance continually tethers on the brink of cheesy. While his character Makinde Esho or (Mr M like she naughtily calls him) expresses an initial distaste for her, it is fun to watch as he slowly falls for her irresistible forwardness. Ms Ejiofor has the onerous duty of drawing her co-star out of his shell and while she does not have the confident presence of 50 films past, her fiesty charm makes all the difference. Oh! And did we mention her laugh? Ms Ejiofor knows she has something there and employs it generously and no one can blame her leading man- or audience for falling for it.

For all the eye candy and good intentions of the leading duo, ‘The Meeting’ truly takes off in Abuja with the appearance of Rita Dominic as Clara Ikemba, the minister’s unrelenting secretary. Now if the word ‘brave’ has been overused in describing the performances of Hollywood actresses, over here in Nollywood, it is sadly underutilized simply because there is a dearth of inspired acting. Ms Dominic’s performance is as brave as it is inspired.

She instantly steals the show as the powerful secretary gone to seed. With her sagging skin, drooping lids, bad hair and thick Owerri accent, she represents an acheivement in acting as well as a triumph of wardrobe, hair and make up. At once powerful and powerless, in turns, the oppressor and a victim of her circumstances, her character is something of an antagonist and the main stumbling block to the hero’s quest but  Ms Dominic has us firmly rooting for her even as we share in our hero’s frustrations. She deserves every best supporting actress trophy that is sure to come her way.

The screen play has a lot more layers to it than the average Nollywood fare, taking turns to explore situations, moments and characters that are not only uniquely Nigerian, but strongly universal. The array of cameos and supporting actors point to this. In the minister’s waiting room, there is Kate Henshaw as the hypocritic socialite ready to do anyhing to achieve her aim, Basorge Tariah Jr as the snivelling professor turned government consultant, Chinedu Ikezie as the business owner whose newly comissioned hotel was recovered by the FCT ministry and Nse-Ikpe Etim as the high class escort who embodies not only the glamorous lifestyle but also the seedy, desperate underbelly. Ego Boyo shows up briefly as a University don delivering a poorly conceived speech and Jide Kosoko gives a great mean face as the ever demanding boss. No one character is completely flawless and at some point, even the rigid Mr M is forced to rethink his values.

There is deft camera work with aerial views of the Abuja skyline and some impressive nature shots but the scenes involving the lovers could have been allowed more breathing space.

The script may be refreshing in most parts with but it has its fair share of romance comedy cliches. Like how Ejura’s (Linda Ejiofor) bike riding boyfriend is a convenient womanising cad, making it all the easier for her to dump him, how we know Mr M just has a back story that would make it all right to hook up with Ejura and film buffs and students can instantly tell that the film’s final scene was lifted straight off the Julia Roberts- Richard Gere classic, ‘Pretty woman’, complete with the final line of dialogue about some prince rescuing the princess right back.

But don’t let this stop you from seeking out the pleasures of ‘The Meeting’ and discovering for yourselves the thrill of a good old story told with delightful finesse. And lots of class.

The writer tweets @drwill20

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