Funke Akindele has carved a niche for herself. Her Jenifa shtick will go down in Nollywood history as the single most exploited act in the industry’s history. I mean how many films – Yoruba as well as English – can an actor appear in as the same one-dimensional act (the gaffe-prone bush girl who refuses to be held down by social limitations) for almost 12 years since the original Jenifa was released? It was starting to look like Ms Akindele is destined to play that one role for life – imagine her when she is 70 playing Grandma Jenifa, unlettered chaos visiting her son Manhattan, New York. So, it is a huge relief to see her do something else in Nollywood as Director of the film, Your Excellency.
Your Excellency stars Akin Lewis as Chief Olalekan Ajadi, a man who has been the joke of several presidential campaigns in the country. Akin Lewis, in particular, deserves immense credit for playing this role with such panache. He is a character that doesn’t quite take himself seriously, he has no problem looking idiotic on television interviews or in public. The movie should be applauded for how it highlights Ajadi’s lack of seriousness – watch people look at him with sneers and sniggers, hear their remarks over him having yet another stab at the presidential position, see the social media comments and memes of derision.
But Your Excellency makes the mistake of assuming, to an extent, that this is all what we want – the admittedly truly hilarious portrayal of Ajadi, the clownish politician and the vicious public ridicule of this character. While this is enjoyable, that is also sadly almost all the film has to offer. There’s a bland and absurd presidential debate, palpable intellectual theft, and what seems like disbelieving naivety on the part of Ajadi, even for a character that could be seen as something of a joke. In the aspect of comedy for comedic sake, and a seeming inability to recognise when to stop and give us something solid, Akindele’s fingerprints are all over the movie.
Ajadi starts out having an obsession with Donald Trump, and the movie draws some form of comparison between both parties, especially in terms of media perceptions – both use social media frequently, both are repeatedly made fun of, and can’t be imagined as people capable of ruling a country or as we frequently say in Nigeria, a Agenebode Local Government Area. But Your Excellency fails to really exploit the thematic and dramatic potentials of a Trump in Nigerian politics. There isn’t much meat beyond taking photos near pictures of Trump, making references to his victory in 2016, and copying his campaign slogan. There is no Nigerian equivalent of Trumpism as a populist ideology, nothing that is really worth holding on to, not even a Trump quote.
Your Excellency can also be faulted in terms of characters, some of which were unnecessary. Take away Stephanie (played brilliantly by Toni Tones, it has to be said), and the film still basically runs on the same course. Remove Candy (also played brilliantly, by Osas Ighodaro) and her storyline, and the film still hardly loses a footing. If they exist to show the dark side of social media, that was a good job well done, but that’s already reflected in other aspects of the film.
Not that this movie doesn’t have areas of credit, though. Take Ajadi, again. He may exist mostly for laughs, but there’s a bit more to him. He exudes loyalty, and in a way manages to symbolise the average Nigerian, despite being rich; we don’t want to know the political nitty-gritties and babbles, we just want a decent life. Good roads, constant electricity, better standard of living. Ajadi’s political victory in the end, however unrealistic and absurd-looking, also signifies hope for the average Nigerian. It’s the kind of hope that bothers on the naïve and fantastical, but it allows a measure of comforting escapism.
Your Excellency also does a good job of highlighting the use of social media; its power, its reach, and also the fact that it never really tells the whole story. And the movie deserves credit for the genuineness of it all; the fan accounts, the quick memes, the captions with typos. The movie also manages to point at the religious fixation in this country; when Ajadi goes to church and his presidential stock rises on social media. Suddenly he is a presidential candidate who is ‘one with God’.
Yet, the movie’s shortcomings can’t quite be overlooked. You might excuse them because it’s Akindele’s debut as a director, and the fact that the ending seems to tease a sequel, which might probably make better use of its characters, and tell us some things it should have here, but there are obvious flaws nonetheless. To sum it up, Your Excellency makes for decent watch, but after everything, it is quite forgettable.