Set in a West African pocket of Brooklyn, N.Y., “Mother of George” is a domestic melodrama, an immigrant tale and a story of women dealing with infertility and oppressive aspects of cultural tradition.
Wardrobe sometimes upstages character in this sophomore feature from director Andrew Dosunmu (“Restless City”). But the people are vibrant and the predicaments distinctive and engrossing.
Written by playwright-performer Darci Picoult, the movie is a minimally plotted, visually sensual drama that suggests any number of immigrant-condition films as well as the infertility-themed “Never Forever.” Specifically about a Nigerian family in contemporary Brooklyn, it begins with a joyous wedding.
Gender and generation issues quickly materialize for the young bride, Adenike (Danai Gurira), and the older groom, Ayodele (Isaach De Bankole), who runs a restaurant with his brother, Biyi (Tony Okungbowa).
While men advise Ayo about how to hide infidelities from one’s wife, Ike learns from her mother-in-law (Bukky Ajayi) about the family’s chief expectation of her. Bear a son and name him George (after the groom’s late father).
When no George exists after 18 months, Ike is blamed. At the advice of her modern friend Sade (Yaya Alafia), Ike wants to visit a fertility specialist with Ayo, but Ayo, who, may be the source of the infertility, refuses.
Pressured by her mother-in-law to produce an heir, and fearing that Ayo will take another wife, Ike chooses a course of action that could prove shattering.
Dosunmu, a Nigeria-born New Yorker and former fashion photographer, enhances the thin story with gorgeous images, particularly of Ike’s colorfully patterned African scarves and dresses.
Presented by cinematographer Bradford Young, these surfaces dazzle, but Dosunmu sometimes lets them take the place of material involving Ike’s deeper workings. What are her desires and dreams? We get hints — she wants to get a job, for example — but not enough.
Although the characters aren’t completely developed, they are passionate and interesting. Dosunmu doesn’t lose his grip on the story’s emotional factors, and his actors deliver beautifully.
Gurira (“The Walking Dead”), conveys both desperation and conviction on her expressive face. De Bankole (a regular in Jim Jarmusch’s and Claire Denis’ films), playing a decent man trapped by circumstances, has a quietly devastating scene.
Dosunmu’s attention paid to everyday detail — hands, feet, food, laundry — is also enriching, making for a small but sometimes intoxicating story about old, new, tradition, individuality, and the stickier things people do in the name of love and family.
Mother of George
With Danai Gurira, Isaach De Bankole, Bukky Ajayi, Tony Okungbowa
Written by Darci Picoult
Directed by Andrew Dosunmu
Running time 1 hour, 47 minutes