In his follow up to the adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun, Biyi Bandele directs an original story set in contemporary times putting the lives and loves of four women on the cusp of their fiftieth year and beyond in the spotlight. Far from slowing down, they are all dealing with various dramatic turning points in their lives. In a world which favours youth and generally views the activities and concerns of the older generation as tedious, it’s testimony to Bandele’s stab at this that the events are fast-paced, glossy and scandalous. Essentially, the complete opposite of midlife lethargy – half the time their more youthful counterparts are struggling to keep up with them. Though far from perfect, these women are successful and determined, clashing and coming together in some interesting ways.
High-profile doctor Elizabeth has a penchant for toy-boys, which is driving a wedge between her and her daughter; her long-term friend Kate is engaged in a clandestine affair with a married man, which leads to some shocking pregnancy news; Maria is struggling to come to terms with a recent diagnosis, desperately turning to religion yet still in denial; her client, Tola, is a megalomaniacal diva – famous for being famous – suspicious of her husband and constantly projecting hostility onto everyone around her. This turns out to be mostly down to a dark family secret that she has buried for some time, but apparently not deep enough as it seeps into her behaviour and taints her relationships.
This all takes place in the bustling former Nigerian capital of Lagos, the most populated city in the country. The city’s activity and the intoxicating nightlife all add to the thrill of things, even wrangling a brief cameo from Femi Kuti (son of the legendary Fela and notable musician in his own right). It’s always great to receive stories – and Bandele is first and foremost a storyteller – from a country so vibrant and with so much to tell. Fifty has all the makings of high-stakes, multifaceted drama with each character impinging on each other in ways of lasting significance.
It may be, however, that it doesn’t fully realise this with plot development a touch on the side of shallow, just a hair’s breadth away from feeling truly natural. These women in their middle-age have clearly had some varied and rich life experiences between them, and the pivotal days that the film focuses on are packed with dramatic showstoppers brought on by a combination of their behaviours, decisions and how the people around them react to that. With this in mind there is an opportunity for some interesting complexity in their characters, but this is unfortunately not fully capitalised on. The events are on display at surface level, and miss giving the audience a fully developed thrust of the internal emotional fallout.
But with the varying episodes on display, there is enough going on to keep the viewer switched on even without the desired depth. Animated and vigorous, it works with the angle of running us through the lives of these four older women to make approaching their fifth decade seem, despite inevitable moments of downward spiral, like it’s just the beginning of a pretty good ride.
Fifty screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2015.