Sola Sobowale’s return to the big screen in Kemi Adetiba’s commercially acclaimed Wedding party 1 was received with an infectious outburst of excitement from viewers, and rightly so. Everyone’s favorite ‘Jaguda mama’ was back, and this time, as a loving and hyper-exuberant mother of the bride, Atinuke Coker. Before any sort of attention was paid to skill and performance in said movie, there was first a resonating buzz driven solely by nostalgia.
If popular opinion is the sole lens through which movies are rated (although it could be argued by most that it is, really, all that matters), we would conclude that Sola gave an impeccable performance as Iya Dunni, with comments like “She carried the movie” and “I only came to watch Sola” flying around, attributing majority of the movie’s success to Sobowale’s performance. However, with time, critical and more informed film opinion waded into the standing reception of the mainstream and her performance in the film slowly garnered skepticism and misgivings. Some wrote it off as overacting at best, suggesting her use of exaggerated mannerisms were a form of compensation to mask an apparent lack of range, depth and nuance. This opinion, albeit controversial, shouldn’t necessarily be treated with derision, like it has by most people.
Sola Sobowale isn’t a greenhorn. She’s been around for quite a while and if one is not familiar with Sobowale’s very long filmography, the perception of her role in Wedding party 1 as annoyingly unilateral, overbearing and unnecessarily should make some sense.
But first, a quick assay of her illustrious career:
Evaluating her performances from her days as Toyin Tomato in the Super Story classic series Oh Father, Oh Daughter, to her deliveries in movies like Ohun Oko Somida (2010), Family on fire (2012) and her most recent execution in Adetiba’s King of Boys prove without a doubt that Sobowale does possess some degree of flexibility with regards to acting range and a good enough understanding of nuance that scripts and their diverse character interpretations demand. Indeed, she does come off as expressive and temperamental in most of her roles, but to group all her performances into one toolkit of histrionic weaponry that she carries about on every project would be downright reductive.
In her performance as Toyin Tomato, Sola plays a scheming seductress who lures wealthy men with her beauty and then milks them dry of substance only to discard them and then move on to the next prey. On of one of such occasions, her newest catch is Suara (Yemi Adeyemi) a family man that has only just recently come into some money and at Toyin’s behest, sends his wife, Abike (Bukky Wright), and children away. Here, Sobowale embodies the two-faced mistress effortlessly. Her flair for the theatrics comes through for her when needed and only goes on to aid the portrayal of the typical unpredictable nature of the archetypal femme fatale. She takes on a similar capricious nature in Introduction Party (2018) where her character, Lara, is seen hoping from one man to another in her desperation to acquire wealth and win a perceived rivalry with her older sister. Here, she combines feminine charm with a loud and volatile temperament, an art Sola again showcases with skill.
In Family on fire (2012), she finds herself playing the role of loyal wife and mother when her entire family is thrown in the middle of a drug dispute caused by her drug peddling brother in-law. Here, we see similarities between her character as Iya Dunni and that of Iya Moyo where she again personifies the archetypal Nigerian mother known for faultlessly merging her ability to go above and beyond for her children and loved ones with a no-nonsense, sharp tongue and even sharper hands, a needed reminder that she does not suffer fools. And this is where, perhaps, the reason for her public appeal resides: That element of relatability in every character Sola embodies. It’s that simple. We recognize our mothers and all seventy four of our Yoruba aunties in both Atinuke Coker and Iya Moyo and even Eniola Salami in King of Boys.
The dexterity and finesse employed in delivering believable performances as a political lobbyist, a ruthless leader of the underworld and a strained mother is a confirmation of Sobowale’s dexterity. The tonal shifts might not be as obvious as those portrayed by our MCMS and WCWS bent to shape by the Stanilavskis of this world but it’s there regardless and it demands far more than the disrespect of oversimplification.
Ultimately, all of Sola’s onscreen personas expose an identification of a well carved niche. This woman simply plays to her strength and there’s nothing wrong with that. Hollywood icon Tom Hanks regularly plays heroic roles and doesn’t receive flak for not showing range by taking on the role of Captain Jack Sparrow. Whether she is a sultry, scheming femme fatale dishing out poetic justice to men whom we all agree should know better but don’t, or your stereotypical overbearing African mother with a high flair for theatrics, Sobowale is consistent in her delivery of performances that confirm an in-depth understanding of her character’s purpose in a story as well as a natural shrewdness shown in her choice of projects.