A great number of Nigerians will always be shocked when a slap leads to a life changing decision by a kid in any number of foreign films. In It’s a Jungle Out There, yet another white kid storms out of her father’s house when he slaps her in the heat of a fierce argument, which of itself is a taboo in these parts.
Anna’s 17th birthday leads to a hangover that sees her returning parents- Wolfgang and Karin- come back shocked as they observe their house is in disarray: someone has carved a radish into a phallus; revelers sleep in misshapen moulds on the furniture; bottles are strewn all over the sitting room; and to top it, her dad’s precious Thelonious Monk record is broken. This latter bit drives the jazz loving politician into frenzy, and in the shouting match that ensues Wolfgang slaps Ana. Angrily she packs her bag and hitches a ride- with another runaway, Simon- into Munich, which is the German Lagos but with worse nightclubs.
Slaps from fathers never provoke drama in Nigeria. It ends it. If that doesn’t work, there are whips, belts, canes. In short, like the Paul Thomas Anderson film, there will be blood.
In that light, everyone should be thankful that Western Africa is not the setting for this funny, warm and insightful coming of age story. There are no twists– you probably know what will happen, over the course of a day. Ana will fall in love, stood up, cheated on, nearly raped, smoke cigarettes, meet fellow runaways and eventually find a way home. On his part, Simon’s vehicle runs out of gas and he is too broke to refill.
The real drama and the film’s most affecting moments derives from the parents’ own behavior in the kids absence and the diary keeping habits of Anna’s younger sister. All four parents drive into Munich but return empty-handed, once home they begin a reveling of their own as they smoke leftover hashish from Ana’s party; once drunk and high, confessions are uttered and old wounds are reopened. The discussion is at first harmless, as they discuss the wild ways of the youth but as alcohol relaxes their inhibitions, it turns out their youth was as turbulent, if not more so, as Anna and Simon’s. As far as two pairs of parents arguing in an apartment goes, it predates the Roman Polanski 2010 film, Carnage which features infinitely more bellicose parents. Wolfgang who is in the middle of a campaign finally lets down his hair proving something that is easy to forget amidst all the onscreen posturing and moralizing: politicians were young once.
Released in 1995, It’s a Jungle Out There’s age shows in its visuals which has a feel similar to those 90s soap opera, NTA loved to show. The soundtrack is apt; it celebrates Jazz in the manner Almost Famous celebrated Rock music in 2001.
As families never really change, It’s a Jungle Out There serves its function very well- it worked then, it works now. It is a warm family comedy drama celebrating that most basic unit of society, the family, and only the most dysfunctional members of dysfunctional families will not have an urge to hug a parent after watching.
Don’t blame the film; it does its best. Blame the several slaps.