With its deliberate and steady plot, The One for Sarah takes us on a journey that defies the conventions of its genre…
By Joseph Jonathan
The One for Sarah, a thought-provoking film directed by Nigerian Lyndsey Efejuku, skillfully intertwines an engaging narrative with meaningful themes. At its core, the movie delves into the power of choices and how these choices shape our lives. The story centres around Sarah (Beverly Naya), a young woman grappling with a painful past, who is offered a chance for a brighter future. Set against the backdrop of a romantic entanglement, the film navigates themes such as trauma, abuse, sexism, and the objectification of women — issues that are of utmost relevance to Nigerian society.
We are introduced to the world of Sarah who has to make a choice. Still healing from an abusive and traumatic relationship, she must choose between letting go of that trauma and finding love again, or continuing to be her reclusive self. Her friend Lizzy (Bimbo Ademoye) does help the situation as she constantly pressures Sarah to loosen up and find someone new. Ultimately, she meets two friends, Fred (Uzor Arukwe) and Michael (Bucci Franklin) by happenchance, and becomes entangled in a sort of love triangle. She must now navigate her relationship with both men, while her abusive ex-boyfriend, Dare (Daniel Etim Effiong), lurks in the background.
Romantic films — whether comedy or drama – have become a staple in contemporary Nollywood productions. The audience seems to love them and can’t get enough. We’ve seen many successful titles such as The Wedding Party (2016), Kambili: The Whole 30 Yards (2020), Dinner at My Place (2022), and Isoken (2017) amongst others. However, as entertaining and insightful as romantic films can be, they have often been criticised for having similar storylines and one-dimensional characters. And while The One for Sarah is not entirely free of this criticism, it sets itself apart as being enjoyable, while also discussing relevant issues that affect our society.
The film, written by screenwriter, Egbemawei Dimeyei Sammy, features a slow-paced but hugely relatable plot that moves confidently as the story thickens from the beginning to the end. Sarah’s journey towards healing and self-discovery offers a compelling narrative thread. Her struggles are tangible, able to resonate deeply with the audience as they mirror the dilemmas many encounter in their lives. Through her interactions with friends (Lizzy, Fred, and Michael), the story highlights the complexities of relationships and the challenge of moving forward amidst emotional scars. The movie plays it safe by focusing on Sarah as an abuse victim and there’s not much to know about Dare who keeps sending her threatening messages. For all we know, he’s an egocentric, abusive partner who sees women as properties to be owned.
While there are a few inconsistencies with unnecessarily long scenes which shift the focus from the main conflict, the choice to explore themes such as trauma, abuse, sexism and objectification of women is commendable. Relationships are difficult, but even more difficult in Nigeria where there’s so much premium on having money, especially for men. Nigerian Twitter, – and largely social media – for example, is littered with various hot takes on how men should focus on being successful, and that women would come in droves. To put it loosely, there is a belief that love is not for “broke men,” so much so that Nigerian singer, Portable, released the hit single, “Money Before You Love” which became an anthem – a perception that has led many men to believe that women are properties to be acquired, a reward for success. It comes off as no surprise when Dare requests that Fred offer him his secretary after a successful business negotiation.
The plot unfolds at a languid pace, maintaining its deliberate sequence throughout – with Sarah as its focus – without introducing any remarkable twists or revelations in the storyline. Instead, the story sticks to a straightforward narrative, albeit with a touch of confusion. This confusion stems from the film’s struggles to define its genre — it wavers between romance, and with its portrayal of domestic violence, could easily be a thriller or drama. Despite being labelled as a romantic drama, the film surprisingly lacks significant romantic elements. Instead, the audience is exposed more to Sarah’s anguish, along with her palpable experiences of abuse, and her scepticism about relationships.
Thankfully, the inconsistencies with the plot are hardly noticeable, due to the minimal cast who do a good job of interpreting the script. Naya stars in her role as Sarah, delivering a nuanced performance. Playing an abuse victim requires some sensitivity to emotions and Naya delivers in an impressive fashion. We are also offered a pleasant surprise as Effiong switches from his usual “good guy” roles, such as in Collision Course (2021) and Jolly Roger (2022), to play an egocentric and abusive misogynist. Another surprise is Kabiru played by Samuel A. Perry (Broda Shaggi), who unlike in his usual roles as a comic character, doesn’t bore the film with unnecessary jokes. Kabiru stays true to his character — the dedicated and sometimes overzealous gateman – while adding a little layer of humour to the film.
As typical of Nollywood romantic dramas, the film is not short of clichés and sometimes, bland lines. The dialogue is delivered in simple language but the overt use of forced American accents sometimes makes the scenes unbearable. The dialogue is also further aided by a musical score which helps set the mood for events as they unfold. The film thrives, too, in its aesthetics, as the alluring panoramic shots and the colourful costumes get the audience sold on Naya’s character as a budding fashion designer. It’s no wonder Mrs Joy (Adunni Ade) keeps coming back to her boutique to shop for outfits for her “hot dates.” The set design though, leaves little to be desired, as it seemed there was little or no attention to detail. Sarah’s boutique, for example, was not properly managed. The space hardly looked like a boutique, but as though a bunch of clothes were thrown in a room to pass for a closet.
With its deliberate and steady plot, The One for Sarah takes us on a journey that defies the conventions of its genre. By blending elements of a romantic drama with the complexities of domestic violence of a drama or thriller, the film challenges our preconceptions about love and emotional abuse. It offers a more nuanced understanding of human relationships. While the lack of a spectacular twist might disappoint some, its commitment to discussing issues that affect us is capable of sparking conversations about love, fear, and the tangled threads that bind us together.
(The One for Sarah is streaming on Netflix)
Joseph Jonathan is a historian who seeks to understand how film shapes our cultural identity as a people. He believes that history is more about the future than the past. When he’s not writing about film, you can catch him listening to music or discussing politics.