Dara Ju is an enthralling film about a man struggling to come to terms with his familial role, a tumultuous and cutthroat career, and a developing drug addiction. Aml Ameen plays lead Seyi Ogunde, a complex but generally likable character with a justifiably strained relationship with his Father that also quite evidently affects his relationship with his Mother and Sister. The film is well shot, making great usage of the New York City setting by creating a cold, almost sterile atmosphere that helps alienate Seyi from the life he’s trying to live in contrast to the warm orange colors we see when he returns home to spend time with his family. Dara Ju’s script is definitely flawed, but its strong qualities kept me completely engaged. Despite Aml Ameen being a phenomenal actor who is, no doubt, on his way to stardom, the rest of the cast, for the most part, comes off as very amateurish and hacky. It’s completely jarring watching Ameen masterfully emote and feel like an actual living, breathing person when he’s surrounded by stiff actors that struggle with believing the lines that are coming out of their mouth; what could have been something really special and poignant is sadly mired down by its lackluster supporting actors.
“Dara Ju’s script is definitely flawed, but its strong qualities kept me completely engaged.”
The film tries to juggle too many themes and plot points at once, and while some are given the attention they deserve, others seem incomplete and unexplored. With Dara Ju’s runtime clocking in at just barely over an hour and a half, there’s just not enough time for this film to say what it wants to say and explore what it wants to explore. There are a lot of times where the film feels rushed, and it did in fact affect my enjoyment of the film overall. On the topic of racism, we see Seyi get strange looks from white people, particularly females. He begins to date Liz (played by Lucy Griffiths) and they have a tense discussion about President Obama. She insists on him meeting her Mother and prefaces their encounter with allusions to potentially awkward situations due to her Mother’s southern upbringing and integrated bigotry, but none of these things seem to payoff in the context of the rest of the film. There is no realization, no revelation, and no defining moment that makes these scenes necessary. It honestly feels like a missed opportunity because the focus on the film is mostly on Seyi’s broken relationship with the rest of his family. His mother, Ife (played by Michael Hyatt) and sister Funmi (played by Hope Olaide Wilson) both depend on him to help them with the burden of caring for Sey’s father, Akin (played by Souleymane Sy Savane). Akin had a debilitating stroke, and due to traumatic instances that the film takes its sweet time revealing, Seyi is cold and distant towards Akin, wanting almost nothing to do with him. It’s fascinating to see the parallels of Sey’s journey in comparison to his Father’s, as Seyi finds himself making some of the exact same mistakes he hates his Father for making. It’s an intriguing question to examine; are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents? Are they somehow ingrained into our being due to our interactions and environment? Watching Seyi become more and more like his Father and the coming to terms with his anger and learning to forgive is the crux of the film.
Other themes Dara Ju briefly touches upon is drug addiction; Seyi starts out using Adderall to stay sharp and focused on his job, and then it spirals into something more powerful. His addiction leads to the breakdown of his relationship with Liz, but again, there is no wrap up or resolution. I get that life rarely ever comes tied with a neat bow of finality, but this is a movie and sometimes these things necessitate a satisfying conclusion. A plot thread I feel the film spent way too much time on is Seyi’s attempts at improving his position within his field using inside trading and greed; it was too much like watching Oliver Stone’s Wall Street without that film’s most mesmerizing character, Gordon Gecko. His shady business dealings do have consequences and a satisfying finale, so kudos for that.
…there’s just not enough time for this film to say what it wants to say and explore what it wants to explore.”
I really hate to harp on the cast, but aside from Aml Ameen, Michael Hytall, and Souleymane Sy Savane, everyone else is just outright terrible, most notably Lucy Griffith as Seyi’s love interest, Liz. In some scenes she’s just cringe worthy. Another standout poor performance is Peter Vack playing the part of Seyi’s friend and co-worker Alex Mueller. Vack is very obviously there to be this film’s comic relief, but he comes off as downright irritating. It is a total shame that the character of IJi (played by actor Craig muMs Grant) has such a minor part; Grant is a fantastic actor and his scenes with Ameen have a ton of heart.
Dara Ju’s writer/director Anthony Onah has a promising career ahead of him, I’ve read that this film is somewhat autobiographical to his own life, and you can tell there’s a lot of personal influence on the story that makes it feel real and engaging. I’m looking forward to seeing what Onah could do with a capable cast. Hopefully this film will be successful and we’ll see a more solid sophomore film, but as a debut film Onah should be commended. Despite its obvious flaws, there’s still a lot to appreciate here, specifically Aml Ameen; the film is worthwhile for his performance alone. Dara Ju is not unforgivably forgettable; it’s just depressing to witness a film that has so much potential to be great fall short due to poor acting and some minor problems with the screenplay.
Dara Ju (2017) Written and Directed by: Anthony Onah. Starring: Aml Ameen, Souleymane Sy Savane, Michael Hyatt, Hope Olaide Wilson, Lucy Griffith, Craig muMs Grant, Peter Vack.
7 out of 10