The Wildflower is a drama that tells the stories of two women and a teenage girl as they navigate abuse and assault at the hands of men around them.
From three different generations, the three ladies live in the same compound, but their circumstances are different.
Though each of them takes some form of stand against their abuser, the results are also different for one another.
Don’t be fooled by the theatrical poster, with Toyin Abraham standing front and centre, flanked at both ends by other cast members.
The actress does play a prominent role as Mama Adaolisa, a middle-aged wife and mother, who suffers domestic violence at the hands of her husband.
The true lead of the film is Damilare Kuku, best known for her raving short story collection, ‘Nearly All the Men in Lagos Are Mad’.
Kuku plays Rolake “Roli” Dabiri, an intelligent, smart-mouthed young woman with a master’s degree in architecture who interviews for a job as a personal assistant to the CEO of an architectural firm.
Of course, she is overqualified for the job, but she’d rather be an assistant than miss the opportunity to work for a man she considers an icon.
The man and CEO is Mr Gowon Williams, portrayed by an imposing Deyemi Okanlawon who is becoming very good at playing powerful, abusive men (just think of his role as the monstrous husband-to-be whose murder on his wedding day sends his fiancée and her best friend on the run in Blood Sisters).
From the moment Mr Gowon sets eyes on Roli, he looks at her the wrong way. It’s fleeting, but it’s there.
After she gets the job, it starts to play out in the things he says to her. But she worships him, so his inappropriateness barely registers even as her boyfriend (Eso Dike) tries to warn her.
As her job requires her to consistently be in close contact with him, it’s only a matter of time before he abuses his power and forces himself on her.
To get justice, Roli must brave the storm and go toe to toe with a man who has what it takes to make her lose everything.
The film’s mostly well-written screenplay exposes Nigeria’s rape culture, exploring the perceived normalcy of problematic behaviour while also highlighting how people in the know cover it up, for whatever reason, and how those who ought to know barely even notice.
Like films that explore sensitive topics tend to do, The Wildflower explains every now and then, as if it’s not sure whether it is passing its messages enough through actions, which it actually is.
But the screenplay handles its subjects, delicate as they are, without being too grim.
It tells a mostly tidy story, laced with occasional sarcasm and well-timed humour that never feels jarring in contrast with the serious moments.
It builds its story and sets up its conflicts with precision, raising the stakes as the story plays out.
It also does not neglect any component of its plot, at least for the first and second acts.
By the third act, when the film transforms into a courtroom drama — mostly well done, by Nollywood standards — it becomes evident that the entire plot revolves around Roli, and that the predominant purpose of Adaolisa’s family is to move Roli’s story along.
I would have liked The Wildflower better if it focused almost entirely on Roli’s experience with workplace sexual harassment and abuse, and if it was written majorly as a legal drama.
There are merits to the multiple experiences, and juxtaposing Adaolisa’s case with Roli’s even allows the screenplay to explore how the class divide can affect justice in sexual assault cases, and how much easier it is for the rich, than for people from the lower class, to get away with sexual assault.
But telling too many stories at once can take away the opportunity to attain the necessary depths, like exploring workplace power imbalances, the culture of silence, and the enabling environment that society has created.
Regardless, The Wildflower achieves a lot. It tells important stories and educates in the process, but it is interesting, too.
Stephen and her writers are careful with how they handle the circumstances of the assaults, the antecedents, the subsequent trauma, as well as the responses and reactions of the society, without embellishing or downplaying them, but also without boring their audience.
Most of the cast put in good shifts, too, although nobody really steals any scene. Plus, the establishing shots are visually interesting and some of the most unique that I have seen in Nollywood recently.
Undeniably, Biodun Stephen is on a roll. With her films regularly gaining considerable critical success, the director has proved herself one to be reckoned with.
The Wildflower fits well into a fine filmography.