Movie Review: Isoken
Director: Jade Osiberu
Producer: Jade Osiberu
Script: Jade Osiberu
Cast: Dakore Egbuson-Akande, Joseph Benjamin, Marck Rhys, Tina Mba, Patrick Doyle, Funke Akindele, Rita Edwards, Damilola Adegbite, Lydia Forson
We meet Isoken at her youngest sister’s wedding; where she just wants to cater to the wedding guests—serve them food, provide drinks, but the theatrics of Nigerian weddings does not allow Isoken enjoy her day. The wedding offers the perfect characters, and indeed location for guests to intrude into the life of 34-year-old Isoken, who has celebrated the wedding of two of her younger sisters. The problem for these intruders is that “Isoken” is single, “Your own will happen soon” are the words she hears as she moves about.
Isoken is well-educated, has an exceptional job, a beautiful family and supportive friends, but a single woman her age is unacceptable to society and even her mother. The emotional torture is more visible from her mother (Tina Mba) who does an incredible job of parading her to Osaze at the wedding. Soon after, Osaze and Isoken start a relationship. The relationship starts well until Isoken meets the awkward, lovable, hilarious and shameless Kevin. They develop a friendship, and Isoken who was once suffering from “man-drought” has two men to choose from. The decision-making process is what makes “Isoken” intriguing. The drama between Osaze and Kevin never gets confrontational; in fact, the battle is Isoken’s. With Kevin, she is not afraid to let her heart out and be her true self. Especially as they have several shared interests including a love for late Nigerian music icon, FELA and afrobeat music. However, with Osaze, she’s more self-conscious and not as fluid as she’d normally be.
Some of the challenges of educated single women in Nigeria are highlighted in Isoken. For most Nigerian households, the girl child hasn’t achieved anything, till she’s landed herself a husband. It doesn’t matter if she’s excelled in academics, career or business; these count for little if she is not married. There is a deep-seated advocacy to “Isoken”. Jade teaches young girls with this to look beyond marriage. Isoken at 35 finds love, in addition, she also has a successful career and has explored life while at it. 35 is Isoken’s right age. It does not mean that for every woman, 35, is the perfect age, but it does pass a message about the importance of stages in life. When a career is in order and there is a satisfaction to it, marriage built on love and not pressure can follow.
Isoken entertains and educates. It is a delight to watch the vision of Jade Osiberu, who is female and has the total authority to this production. Jade is a powerful and resolute writer who combines a sumptuous love story with good humor. Isoken is an empowered woman with an education and she has chosen a career path she can boast of. Isoken chooses love over marriage and these decision test boundaries.
Jade Osiberu’s “Isoken” milks a very familiar plot but the magic is in the execution. She is smart and intelligent from pre-production to post-production, she is quite the triple threat, Jade writes directs and produces “Isoken” and her DNA is all over this project. Isoken enjoys strong themes of feminism, love, and societal resistance. Isoken is Jade’s cinematic resistance to societal pressure. It resists the pressure for marriage. Jade creates vital scenes of friendship, she creates quite the oppressive mother, and she does not forget to create a unique friendship between Isoken and her father.
Suitable humor comes from Marc Rhys; Marc Rhys is brilliant and escapes the curse of foreign actors being cast in Nigerian films just because they look the part. He matches the role and is an enjoyable actor. Dakore is in her best element. She is perfect and will remain memorable as Isoken. This is Dakore’s most enjoyable effort, yet. And it should be a reason to anticipate seeing her in other productions. Dakore and Marc are compatible as actors and as lovers. The magic of Isoken is in the cast. Joseph Benjamin is so good here, we were rooting for him. Another actor, worthy of commendation is Rita Edwards, as the Jehovah witness aunty. That was quite the intelligent addition to the whole film.
With all its beauty, there are a few buts to “Isoken”, and the first comes from the opening scene. The Benin culture is an admirable culture. The opening scene of “Isoken” should have allowed the inexhaustible splash of that culture. The opening scene is a Benin wedding; everything in the scene depicts the culture except the music that starts the scene. While we expect a Benin song to start the scene, it starts with a Flavor song, clearly in Igbo. Nigerian weddings enjoy songs from different cultures, but in Isoken the first scene should have done well with a Benin song. A Benin song comes on later but it should have opened the scene.
Next is the immediate change of attitude from Isoken’s younger sister to her husband at Kukua’s wedding. Isoken’s sister does not appear subservient through the film, but suddenly her marriage is portrayed as oppressive. The problem with this establishment is that from the first scene, Jade does not drop a hint of a marriage in trouble. Not by the couple’s gestures, the body language or by dialogue.
The big question… Why does Isoken choose her wedding eve to break up with Osaze? it was unjust. We understand the need for Isoken to find happiness, but in feminist writings, it should not always be about the woman. The break-up was inevitable, but why the wedding eve? This particular scene affected the audience reaction to the film; there was a unified hiss at the cinema where we watched ‘Isoken” and at the end of the film, another hiss. I could tell it had a lot to do with the Osaze break-up on the wedding eve.
The acting is one of the reasons I loved “Isoken” but Ifeanyi’s (Akah Nnani’s) portrayal of the nerd is too foreign. That is how American nerds behave, definitely not Nigerians. Bolanle Olukanni struggles and for such a supporting character that should be memorable, she is forgettable.
Isoken is impeccably rich in dialogue and Jade’s attention to details is commendable. Isoken is a delight to watch and for other errors that are inescapable, we can all agree it is Jade’s feature length debut and with that comes a few lessons.
A bonus is the special name ‘Isoken”. Truly special!
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