Like the first volume, The Wedding Party’s pre-Christmas release was an effective strategy plugged into the spending impulse that comes with the season, which of course contributed to its huge financial turnover. And with that formula and from all indications, Destination Dubai is set to replicate that cinematic success…
On December 16, 2016, The Wedding Party opened in Nigerian cinemas and scored over 400 million naira at the Nigerian box office. Christopher Vourlias writing for Variety observes this record-breaking feat, which he describes as “the highest grossing Nigerian film of all time.” In its opening week, many had trouped out to see the Kemi Adetiba-directed rom-com, who had trained at the New York Film Academy and showcased her first feature film in a way that expanded her creative bandwidth beyond music videography and other small-time projects. With its 60 million naira budget, The Wedding Party isn’t another random, elliptical feature in Nollywood’s clichéd canon. To begin with, the film’s setup and detailing fuels a cultural appetite filtered through wedding culture in Nigeria and the booming wedding industry. In the postdigital age of performative wedding hashtags, pre-wedding photo shoots, gele and makeup services, and the merchandising of aso ebi, The Wedding Party registers itself as a dizzying mashup of sensibilities.
As pure entertainment, the film throws a nod to the owambe, and it’s in this light that we see Adetiba’s work as accurate and intimate and tolerably farcical. As cinema, Adetiba’s directorial flair and keen observations turns out the private, internal problems of two families and therefore expanding the film’s emotional spectrum. The story is simple enough, and follows the wedding between Dunni (Adesua Etomi) and Dozie (Banky Wellington), two characters from wealthy backgrounds navigating through disasters and mishaps on their wedding day. There’s also the appeal of the wholesomely fitting cast. In a Twitter chat with The Guardian Nigeria last year, Adetiba’s attraction to the script had singularly come from the comic element. “They told me it would be a comedy centered around a Nigerian wedding reception. I immediately saw hilarious scenarios in my head. That sold me.” And when asked about the most exciting thing about working on the set of The Wedding Party, she enthused: “The amazing cast. It’s my entire casting wishlist in one movie. How amazing is that?”
And yet, there’s something about the casting that feels almost deliberate and thorough. “The cast was key to the success of the movie as every character seemed tailored for their roles and interpreted these roles naturally.” Daniel Aideyan tells me via e-mail. Daniel Aideyan was one of the scriptwriters for Our Best Friend’s Wedding, a romantic dramedy web show that had a serialized run on RedTV last year and tells the story of a man who impulsively buys an engagement ring and recruits his two female best friends to find him a woman to marry. Although OBFW doesn’t match The Wedding Party’s prestige fare and its scale of profound success, OBFW has a kind of existential glaze and introspection. “The show aimed to look at the culture beyond just the drama of a wedding ceremony, which was basically the theme of The Wedding Party,” Daniel explains further. “It tried to put a perspective on the pressure marriageable youths face in Nigeria as it regards getting married.”
The more I spoke to Daniel, the more I developed a critical eye for The Wedding Party’s combined aesthetic from its two leading actors. Adesua is pretty and slender, with the idealized, light-skinned phenotype that has, over the years, become a preferential taste in Nollywood. Her portrayal of Dunni is one that is horrified at the accidental ripping of her wedding dress, treated unfairly by her uppity, solipsistic mother-in-law, and gripped with last-minute uncertainties. On the other hand, Wellington, who is a popular singer-songwriter with the stage name Banky W, takes on The Wedding Party as his first foray into film. Handsome, and a one-time notoriously ambitious poster child with new money, Wellington’s longstanding bachelorhood status is one that has calcified with enough repute to influence our pop cultural diet. The borderline obsession by fans who have harassed Wellington to get married had once compelled him to write a retaliatory open letter. Taken together, The Wedding Party plays out as a parallel dimension where Wellington strips off bachelorhood and internalizes the film’s core message.
Back in May, Banky W announced his engagement to Adesua in a two-part Instagram post. And as always, social media went wild with the story, tweets rippling into retweets and the news cycle reporting it at a fever pitch. It was one of the biggest entertainment headlines of the year, and I could only critically reference The Wedding Party as an incubator for Banky W and Adesua’s romance. Hashtagged #BAAD2017, no other Nigerian celebrity wedding came close to its glamour and social media following, spanning across countries and atmospheres. The news of The Wedding Party sequel had long been announced by executive producer Mo Abudu, whose EbonyLife Films collaborated with other production outfits and a distribution outlet to form the ELFIKE Film Collective. But the announcement came with the mention of a new name in the director’s chair. Niyi Akinmolayan had replaced Adetiba, and this change brewed rumours of a rift between Adetiba and Mo Abudu.
Titled The Wedding Party: Destination Dubai, the sequel will open in cinemas on December 15 after its Lagos premiere. And its release before Christmas is no coincidence. Like the first volume, The Wedding Party’s pre-Christmas release was an effective strategy plugged into the spending impulse that comes with the season, which of course contributed to its huge financial turnover. And with that formula and from all indications, Destination Dubai is set to replicate that cinematic success in many folds, making an overlap with Nollywood’s perennially frustrating obsession with sequels and installments, all of them failures by the metrics of good narrative continuity and box office impact. The returning cast for Destination Dubai are with their idiosyncrasies and charm, and the story, as based on the trailer released last month, plucks minor characters Deirdre (Daniella Down) and Nonso (Enyinna Nwigwe) from the margins to the foreground. Their wedding is the sequel’s centerpiece, and thus offering a fresh pivot in sequence and plot while remaining thematically familiar. But will that be enough to conquer the box office?
“I would certainly love to be wrong on this,” Daniel concludes, “seeing that the success of the sequel would help the growth of the industry. But if I’m to do any projection with the available trends in the industry right now, my answer is a definite no. I don’t think this will be as successful as the first, even though it will be a very successful project on its own.”
As movie-goers head to the cinemas to watch Destination Dubai in its opening weekend, they will do so with nostalgia, and importantly from the point of uncritical, harmless consumerism. As it is, The Wedding Party films are seemingly looking like an inevitable, profitable franchise. And we may not have to wait that long for another sequel.