Out Of Africa: Ebuka Njoku’s “UNO (The F In Family)”

An unexpected homecoming causes a family to unravel and forces its constituents to do some introspection.

In his second feature-length effort, Nigerian filmmaker Ebuka Njoku presents a story that holds a lot of promise, but flounders to a finish that elicits a small degree of frustration, even if quite satisfactory.

UNO (The F in Family) comes two years after the release of Njoku’s debut feature Yahoo+, a gritty crime thriller that managed to tell a compelling story of organ harvesting in spite of an ultra-slim budget. In this sophomore offering, the creative stakes are different, with a depiction of familial intrigue and intergenerational dynamics that sets out with noble intent.

We meet Junior (Keezyto), a thriving comic publisher who has been away for ten years, and only returns to Enugu because he needs to introduce his fiancee Rukayat (Tomi Ojo) to his family. He is cognisant of how difficult and tense the reunion will be, but has no idea of how frosty home has become: his siblings Ada (Sophia Chisom) and Gozie (DJ Capello) resent him for cutting off contact and the emotional neglect from their parents that followed his departure, his estranged father Uzuakpundu (Nkem Owoh) sneers at the prospect of having an actress for a daughter-in-law, and his mother Deaconess (Jennifer Eliogu) is too caught up in religious dogma to let her son marry a Muslim.

A dark cloud hovers above a home which has known little harmony since Junior went against his father’s wish to study Law and ditched Enugu for Lagos. Amidst Uzuakpundu’s serial infidelity, the Deaconess’ detachment, Ada’s disillusionment and Gozie’s marijuana addiction, this beleaguered family has no choice but to interrogate its individual and collective troubles.

With a plot that relies on romance and humour as its pivotal hooks, Njoku’s screenplay beams the spotlight on subjects like ethnic bigotry, religious fundamentalism, fraternal conflict, acceptance, agency and stigmas. This is where UNO falters: in piecing these grand ideas and attempting to make them all work within a 150-minute runtime, concreteness is sacrificed for contrivance. Focusing primarily on two or three themes would have made for a more cohesive film.

Owoh dazzles as the self-indulgent, inflexible Uzuakpundu with a measured and refined performance, a significant departure from the chatterbox persona that characterised his early-career roles. Eliogu hands in the strongest performance in the room as the long-suffering, mild-mannered but cautious Deaconess who must hold her own as the matriarch of a family that is tearing at the seams. Keezyto struggles to establish any sort of romantic chemistry with Ojo: the dialogue feels too saccharine, the delivery too flat, and the moments lack spontaneity. Chimamanda Ukwueze shows immense potential as the precocious Nneoma, who exists as a reminder of Ada’s “moral laxity” in ending up as a single mother. 

One of UNO’s biggest flaws is that it attempts to portray varying degrees of emotion without any sufficient character development or believable premise to establish the chain of events. Even in depicting the film’s points of conflict, the sequence of events feels so hasty that it’s difficult to get invested in the characters or how their lives play out.

But where the film shines, it glistens to hearty effect. The scenes between Sophia Chisom’s Ada and Abayomi Alvin’s Kenizibe hark back to the delightfulness in Nora Ephron’s 1998 romcom You’ve Got Mail, and Njoku’s screenplay succeeds in capturing the essence of a dysfunctional Nigerian family with the attendant mischief, wranglings, messiness and strife. Neec Nonso’s cinematography shows great flair (amidst portrait shots and clever fourth wall breaks) and Zikoranachukwuebuka Ikebuaka’s costume design paints a convincing picture of a lower middle-class Igbo family.

Notwithstanding its pitfalls – and there are lots of them – UNO manages to serve up an endearing family drama, with valuable lessons to glean and more than a few laughs to come away with. It’s also another decent outing for Njoku, who must now learn to strike a balance between originality and coherence in his next directorial endeavour.


UNO (The F In Family) is currently showing in cinemas across Nigeria, with the probability of getting to streaming services next year.

OUT OF 100

Script
60 %
Story
80 %
Acting
60 %
Characters
70 %
Directing
60 %
Costume
70 %
Soundtrack
70 %
Sound Quality
60 %
Production Design
70 %
Cinematography
80 %
For the Culture
75 %
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