BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
The anticipation of Jadesola Osiberu’s Isoken has been one of the highest so far this year, trumping AY Makun’s 10 Days in Sun City by a mile. Perhaps the only film that would compete on this scale is The Wedding Party 2, but even that is yet to be known.
From a woman who created sensational TV Series Gidi Up and Skinny Girl In Transit that had people renewing their internet subscriptions a little too often to catch them on YouTube, one would only expect brilliance, especially since she did not only write it, she also produced and directed it. And with the way her team has been about its promotion, you’d realise she clearly didn’t come to play.
The movie tells the story of Isoken Osayande; thirty-four, gorgeous and fabulous. Her life is near-perfect, she has a comfortable apartment full of books and clothes and shoes, okay parents by Nigerian standards with a close-knit extended family and a clique she rolls with who visit spas often and talk about waxing with all that high-society Lagosian lingo. She studied abroad and works in a place that affords her the corner office. Yes, life is great for Isoken. Or not quite.
Her mother mounts pressure on her to settle down so much that every conversation ultimately leads to the man question. It doesn’t help that her sisters are married either. When she finally meets someone, he is almost perfect too, eliciting oohs and ahhs. Osaze shares her tribe, her status (turned up a notch), her faith and family values, oh, and her colour, something Kelvin, a man she would later meet and fall for, doesn’t. Isoken would have to choose who she should be with, but with time not on her hands, and the pressure to please, it is not the easiest of decisions.
The story is relatable, especially when she sits among her girls, Agnes, Kukwa and Ajoke, and they recount their daily life experiences as women. Kukwa is from Ghana and is determined to have gotten married by the end of the year. Ajoke is already married but keeps losing her pregnancies and fears that her husband may become unfaithful. Agnes isn’t married, and neither is her mouth, as it opens up with every opportunity, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness.
The typical Nigerian connects to Isoken or at least one of the characters, and so the film has a room large enough for everyone. It also touches on how tribalistic and even racist we get without knowing it. When Yesoken, Isoken’s mother, learns that she is in love with an ‘Oyinbo’, she appears to faint and then begins to wail like one bereaved. If the tables were turned, rants would rent the air and we would never hear the last of it.
Isoken passes subtle messages about societal pressure, especially on the woman, to settle down. Isoken says at the table that she is looking to bag an extra degree, and then her mother shuts her up by asking if it is the degree that would give her children. For the woman, it really doesn’t matter how successful you are in other areas, as long as you are unmarried, you are a problem to be solved.
Isoken is rich. It is purposeful and devoid of unnecessary scenes that do not move the story forward. And it would have been just another romantic comedy, except that it masterfully passes real deep-seated messages that are hard to ignore. The messages are so well-knitted in the story that you almost cannot tell one from the other. It also works because it cuts across just marriage and its unending quest, to living life on your own terms. When Isoken’s father says to her: “It is not your job to make everybody happy”, it goes beyond just her choice of who to marry or not and sends a resonating message on who to choose when in confusion: yourself.
Some scenes go on for way too long and with a little bit of forced humour, especially scenes that have the ladies chattering. The transition from scene to scene isn’t fluid too, and can be slightly distracting. But there are excellent scenes as well, like the ones that compare Isoken’s dates with Osaze with her dates with Kelvin.
The casting works well in this film. Isoken is played very brilliantly by Dakore Akande who bears a strong semblance to Chimamanda Adichie with her afro and ideals, Osaze by Joseph Benjamin and Kelvin, who is outstanding on this one, by Welsh actor, Marc Rhys. His imitation of Naija-speak is particularly fascinating. This is one of the few times our filmmakers cast a foreign actor who can actually act.
Funke Akindele is a joy to watch as Agnes. Damilola Attoh is soft and delectable as Ajoke. Lydia Forson is vivacious as Kukwa. Nedu is cast as Chuks, Timini Egbuson as Timi, Ayoola Ayolola as Ajoke’s husband and his Skinny Girl In Transit love interest, Abimbola Craig as Isoken’s funny assistant who realises love a little too late.
Tina Mba is excellent as Yesoken. It is lovely how she is able to embody her roles so flawlessly. Patrick Doyle is the perfectly loving father as Isoken’s father, and Bolanle Olukanni makes a lovely movie debut as Isoken’s sister.
Isoken, like every other one of Jadesola Osiberu’s work, is delicious. The scenes and costumes are a burst of colours, the dialogue lines are profound, and the soundtracks, consisting of rich and entirely Nigerian tunes, are lit. The characters do not hold back. There is no ‘forming’, it is as real as it gets, and it would have you feeling all kinds of mush at certain points, of course, unless your heart is decked in cubes of ice.