This year’s play for feel good movie of the year comes in the form of a lavish, colourful debut by new media queen, Jadesola Osiberu.
For those not in the know, Osiberu was the former head of the Guaranty Trust Bank media side project, Ndani TV and in this capacity, Osiberu pioneered the creation of exciting, occasionally addictive content for the online generation. Her relentless pursuit of fresher ways to connect with the millennial audience gave rise to sensations like Gidi Up and The Juice, while spawning about half a dozen imitators.
Osiberu may have left Ndani TV, but her gaze has remained locked on the millennials and Isoken, her first feature length which she also wrote and produced, via her TRYBE85 productions, with help from the Bank of Industry, is simply a continuation of this preoccupation of hers. Few if any of the content producers working today have dedicated themselves the way that Osiberu has, to studying and documenting the lifestyles of Nigeria’s middle-upper class youth population.
Isoken is a thirty four year old high flying career woman suffering from the great Nigerian misfortune of being single. Like Osiberu, Isoken, played by a winning Dakore Akande,- in somewhat of a return to form,- comes from a well-heeled family, has bagged foreign degrees and has made enviable strides at work. All of this of course means nothing to the emotionally abusive mama Isoken, (an adroit Tina Mba) who has had to suffer the indignity of marrying off all her younger daughters while the eldest marches confidently into spinsterhood.
Isoken’s similarly afflicted friends, played by the competent duo of Funke Akindele,- channelling Cookie Lyons,- and Ghanaian Lydia Forson won’t let her forget either, as all their conversations revolve around snagging husbands.
While girl talk like this may be par for the course for unmarried ladies of a certain age, it becomes a tad unsettling that three successful, independent single ladies,- plus their married friend, Joke (Damilola Adegbite) would let themselves be conditioned by society into seeking eternal fulfilment only in well matched weddings.
Of course the troublesome plot instantly makes it inevitable that Isoken fails the Bechdel test spectacularly. You know the test, the one where at least two women on screen talk to each other on something other than men. The female characters of Isoken may drive the plot and get all the great lines, but every single (and married) one of them suffers from man issues. And they want nothing more than to talk about it.
Even when Akande’s Isoken has a lengthy conversation with her assistant at work, played by Ndani TV’s Skinny Girl in Transit lead, Abimbola Craig, the only thing they can come up with in the world to talk about is a male colleague dishing out ladles of unrequited love.
All of this would be just well and good if Isoken owned its man obsessiveness unashamedly or at least embraced it with a sly wink. But Osiberu wants to eat her cake and keep it, and so she introduces elements of feminism, while trying also, to grapple with inequalities between both sexes, especially in the African context.
There is a heartfelt scene where Isoken’s happily married younger sister (Bolanle Olukanni) opens up about losing her very essence to the trap of marriage. There is also the half-hearted attempts at presenting Isoken as a modern feminist, complete with bad culinary skills, natural hair, eccentric cut gowns and a house full of books.
But at her core, all Isoken wants to do is really just find Mr right guy. One who notices that she ties her head scarf all funny and appreciates Lagos’ awesome music legacy.
When Isoken finally gets her man, she gets a double dose.
Osaze (Joseph Benjamin) is the most eligible bachelor seen on film since Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. He hails from Edo state like Isoken, comes from old money, runs a successful business and kisses like a dream. Check, check, check.
Just when Isoken is set to stroll down the aisle, she meets a charming expatriate, Kevin (Marc Rhys) who shares so many of her artistic interests. A finely presented sequence highlights the differences between both men, as Isoken and Osaze board a yacht for a cruise while Kevin takes her through downtown Lagos on a far more exciting tricycle (Keke) ride.
It is obvious where her heart lies but what is a thirty four year old unmarried, much put upon single lady to do? Be trapped in the safety of conventional wisdom or give in to the temptation of a joyous uncertainty?
As Isoken struggles with her choice, Osiberu effectively announces herself as the next big deal as far as Nollywood is concerned. A triple threat, Osiberu shines in all the departments she engages in. Isoken is gorgeous to look at and the production design is top notch. Costumes, makeup and music (a mix of old and contemporary tunes) are all perfectly rendered and the film’s wedding party scene teaches that other famous film a thing or two about how to shut down a Lagos party.
The screenplay builds up to a satisfying, if cluttered ending as the usual romantic comedy tropes are ticked off. Osiberu’s imprints are all over the film as she unspools the sights and sounds of contemporary upper class Lagos living. Her camera work is deft and even when she needn’t bother, she comes up with interesting ways of presenting her picture. See the pre-wedding dinner scene in a Eko Hotel room involving Isoken and Akindele’s Agnes.
Competently cast, Isoken shines best when it goes for laughs. The dramatic sub plots (Adegbite’s pregnancy) seem forced but the story’s endless charms ensure that even after the last scene has played out, only warm feelings remain.