17 Apr 2022
Nikki Fagbemi, Josephine Samson, Simon Weir, Kimberley Okoye
Jenga is a game of precision, control and cunning. It’s a game many people enjoy with their families, perhaps at easter time. It’s also a game which usually ends in chaos, little blocks strewn all over the table as the tower comes crashing down with one big bang. There’s not just one big bang in ‘Why Me’, more like several loud explosions as it sets itself out as an extremely gripping and fresh short.
Right from the offset ‘Why Me’ establishes itself as a clever piece of filmmaking, as the camera slowly pans across the messy bedroom to end all messy bedrooms and onto Naima (Nikki Fagbemi), when director Abdou Cisse gives an unexpected quick zoom. It’s a leaf taken right from the book of Quentin Tarantino, only you’d expect it from an acclaimed auteur, not from a fledgling director like Cisse himself.
The same fresh tone is maintained throughout, as Naima navigates a whole host of troubles in her hectic life. Her mum (Josephine Samson) is dealign with her own issues and needs Naima to collect her brother from school, she’s harassed by the customers at her work, and her boss - the mean Mr Perry (Simon Weir) is constantly on her toes. However, most importantly of all she has the underlying backdrop of some health problems, only made worse by her frantic life.
What Cisse and Fagbemi, who doubles up as writer, do so well is create such a claustrophobic atmosphere that you can’t take your eyes from the screen. The constant buzz of a new message, the heckles of each customer, the increasingly more frequent phone calls, all contribute to a rising crescendo of tension which doesn’t dissipate until long after the credits roll. It’s a build-up of drama akin to ‘Whiplash’, except this lacks the glamour of Los Angeles and doesn’t have J.K. Simmons roaring in your face every five minutes.
Much of this can be attributed to its self-contained style. ‘Why Me’ knows that it’s only got 15 minutes to tell a story so there’s no room for meandering or little breaks. Perhaps more impressively, ‘Why Me’ manages to give each of its characters dimensions without ever losing focus of Naima and her story. Little throwaway pieces of dialogue here and there illustrate that although Naima is definitely suffering the most, everyone is suffering in their own little way. Everyone’s tired and on edge, there’s no comfort because there’s no time for rest - it’s just onto the next task.
In many ways ‘Why Me’ feels like it could be mirroring the lives of everyone on the planet, as you realise that any one of those characters could be swapped out for any one of us, and it would be remarkably similar. The message is simple: take some time to disconnect and relax. Maybe even play a bit of jenga.
Nikki Fagbemi is excellent both with the pen in her hand and in front of the camera, delivering a biting, darkly comedic screenplay in which she revels in the character of Naima, giving a powerhouse performance to hold your attention throughout. Many actors mask an average performance with a bucket-load of tears but for Fagbemi they’re just another tool to take a good display to a great one. The supporting cast all give solid performances in their own right, but none can hold a candle to Fagbemi, who truly owns this short.
‘Why Me’ is a staggering piece of filmmaking - it’s fresh, it’s intense and it’s surprisingly funny at times. Director Abdou Cisse is creative behind the camera, effortlessly guiding us through Nikki Fagbemi’s clever screenplay which she perfectly acts out as the lead character Naima. It’s a lesson in building tension, benefitting from a gloriously claustrophobic feel and a tight, self-contained atmosphere. It’s a short that knows it’s a short and revels in that fact. Jenga is pretty tense as games go, but you’ll be playing it to relax after watching ‘Why Me’.