AMVCA 2018: Is ‘Isoken’ the best romantic comedy we have had in a long time?

The AMVCA is almost here, and I’m trying to work up some enthusiasm after seeing the shocking nominations. The critic Oris Aigbokhaevbolo think it’s the worst in the history of the AMVCA, and YNaija’s Wilfred Okiche sums it up as a sad bunch. Truly, it’s a sad state of affairs, which is why I have chosen to revisit the Jadesola Osiberu romantic comedy Isoken, a 2017 surprising smash that got itself four AMVCA nods, including Best Director.

Romantic comedies in Nollywood have been done to the death, evangelising the idea that the woman must get hooked or be married to a man. Also, they have been a micro-scripture on the societal pressures women face at a seemingly marriageable age. In Osiberu’s Isoken, Dakore Egbuson-Akande plays the protagonist and in one scene, she Googles out a page that disturbingly says when a woman hits thirty, 90% of her eggs are gone for good.

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Isoken is thirty-five and, with not much time left, she’s existentially forced to look at her two options: there’s Osaze (Joseph Benjamin), a prosperous handsome bachelor who speaks in muffled tones as if his throat is choked with money; and Kevin (Marc Rhys), the awkwardly delightful English guy who is the movie’s reliable comic engine.

It will be reductive to say Isoken is just another romcom without looking at the aspects that make it stand out from its predecessors. The acting is marginally more than decent, the translucent cinematography and the script paying homage to the Benin culture in language and sensibilities. Waje’s Omini Knowest simmering in the background as Isoken declares that she’s in love with “oyinbo” Kevin, to her family’s chagrin, and washing over the scene acts as a rebellious anthem and underscores the turning point in the movie.

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What makes Isoken a fine work of cinema isn’t the beguiling interracial romance nor breezy city landscape, but a picture of a woman’s tumultuous journey towards genuine, absolute happiness. Isoken falling in love with Kevin didn’t happen because he was white and devastatingly cute; it happened because, with him, she could loose herself completely, inhibitions gone, an English man that made her feel even more Nigerian.

Undergirded by the impulse to tick all the boxes of typical romcom fare, Dakore Egbuson Akande’s star performance is reminiscent of Michelle Dede’s outstanding input in another romcom June, released back in February and directed by Desmond Elliot. Both movies foreground female characters dealing with marriage pressures, but Isoken advances with a tender, dreamy sophistication. While shooting 2016’s The Wedding Party, a Kemi Adetiba effort, the movie tries to harvest the chemistry between real-life lovers Adesua Etomi and Banky Wellington, a luxury that Isoken doesn’t have.

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And yet, Isoken is convincing with its own whirlwind chemistry: Kevin stunning Isoken with a kiss while in an art place which was quite joyful to watch, the blissful loosening of themselves in the pulse and motions of commercial Lagos, and their conversations dotted with jokes and anecdotes sourced from their respective memories.

Dakore is up for Best Actress in A Comedy and TV Series at this year’s AMVCA, on September 1, and I have friends who have feverishly voted for her. And although it’s still a sacrilege that the movie was snubbed in the cinematography category, other categories like Best Supporting Actress (Lydia Forson) and Best Movie West Africa are all up for potential wins. Isoken is perhaps the best romcom offering we have had in a long time, all things considered, and it could spell a new subversive take on the genre.

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