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Since her early days in production and writing, Ruth Kadiri has displayed a remarkable talent for telling unconventional stories that evoke heartfelt emotions. On occasions, she even managed to inject a unique essence into familiar storylines, setting her characters apart from the numerous iterations of the same narrative. “Better Half,” a film following the Ruth Kadiri storytelling format, maintains this characteristic approach. However, this time, the storyline’s divergence leans uncomfortably towards toxicity.
“Better Half” narrates the events that unfold between a young university student named Kanye (played by Chidi Dike) and one of his lecturers, Sia (portrayed by Uche Montana). Kanye has always been infatuated with Sia, to the point where he creates an online persona named Kennedy to connect with her and eventually enters into a relationship. In this fabricated identity, Kennedy poses as a long-distance lover residing in the United States, older than Sia.
As time passes, Sia gradually falls in love with Kennedy, leading to a proposal where he sends her a ring via mail. She accepts the proposal, and they proceed with a traditional wedding ceremony, where the groom is absent. It is only after the ceremony that Sia discovers she is actually married to her student Kanye. Now faced with the consequences, Kanye embarks on a journey to seek forgiveness from Sia and rekindle her love for him.
To be honest, I find the synopsis above unsettling, as it reads like the introduction to a horror thriller. While I understand that our longing for romance, particularly with a wealthy and attractive partner, can fuel our imaginations, a storyline like this should raise red flags for most adults. Instead, we are presented with a narrative where a young man essentially manipulates a mature woman into marriage and then refuses to dissolve the union. Astonishingly, the elders in the story validate his stance and enable it. This is where the influence of our art begins to mirror society.
In Nigerian culture, a persistent pursuit by a man, even after repeated rejections, is celebrated as “knowing what he wants” rather than being viewed as disrespectful towards a woman’s wishes. Similarly, a man who incessantly follows a woman is considered “persistent” rather than recognized as engaging in stalking behavior. It is only after years of tolerating such conduct that we arrive at a point where being trapped in a marriage is socially acceptable and even romanticized.
Aside from the storyline, Better Half falls into the familiar pitfalls commonly seen in Nollywood movies made for YouTube. One notable example is the portrayal of lecture halls and university settings, which can be quite amusing. Interestingly, it seems that the area around the Lekki Conservation Center has been exclusively used as the backdrop for these university scenes, yet no effort is made to conceal the prominent signage. There are scenes depicting students supposedly attending lectures, but they are shown entering doors leading to the Conservation Center’s office instead. Additionally, the lecture halls themselves are rather comical, as they lack desks entirely.
Another issue lies in the insertion of music within the scenes. It often feels as though the music plays on a repetitive loop, occasionally coming to an abrupt end, resulting in silent scenes until someone from the production team realizes and presses “replay” again. Nevertheless, these shortcomings have unfortunately become the accepted standards for YouTube movies.
In terms of performances, Uche Montana and Detola Jones (portraying her friend ‘Muna’) are the ones carrying the weight in this film. Unfortunately, Chidi Dike appears woefully unprepared to tackle the role of the male lead. His facial expressions remain consistently stagnant, his mannerisms feel rigid and unnatural, and his overall inability to convey emotions only exacerbates the already unbearable actions of his character.
Should you watch “Better Half”? Based on the comments on the movie, if you are the average Nigerian, particularly one who grew up in the country and shares the prevailing values of your community, there is a strong likelihood that you will appreciate the romantic aspects of this film. However, if you belong to the group of individuals who view the actions mentioned earlier as genuine acts of disrespect towards women or as instances of stalking, this movie may bring you more frustration than enjoyment.