Thursday, August 13, 2009

Joyce Bernal for National Artist!

Continuing from the news that Carlos J. Caparas is National Artist, yet more artists that 1) better deserve the title, 2) are I think genuinely talented, and 3) deserve to be much better known--in this case, Ms. Joyce Bernal:

Excerpt from: Two love stories

Viva Film's Kailangan Ko'y Ikaw (You Are All I Need, 2000) is a romantic comedy starring Robin Padilla and Regine Velasquez and--surprise, surprise--it's actually very good.

It's nothing really new--actually, it's the nth variation of William
Wyler's Roman Holiday (1953), where Audrey Hepburn plays a lonely princess longing to escape her duties and go on a holiday and Gregory Peck plays the journalist who accompanies her on her holiday and ultimately falls in love with her. Here Velasquez is a pop-music princess with a full schedule; one of the quickie activities she happens to be involved in is a "Your Dream Date" contest which Padilla happens to win, hence their first meeting.

Not quite--Velasquez does show up, but she's in such a hurry to get to her other engagements that Padilla is left forgotten and bewildered and not a little disappointed. So he stalks her, kidnaps her, then continues the date from where they left off.

And they fall in love. And they have the usual lovers' quarrels (here involving her being a rich and famous singer and him being some poor nobody). And, despite everything, it all ends happily. That's not the point; the point is Joyce Bernal (who directs) and Mel Mendoza (who wrote the screenplay) have taken a tired genre (the romantic comedy) and a tired plot (poor boy meets rich girl), and spun off fresh (okay, fairly fresh) and funny moments from the less-than-promising material. And that (as anyone familiar with recent romantic comedies can tell you) is a minor miracle.

Part of it is the way the film plays against the two stars' public persona…which has been done before, but rarely with such intelligence and wit (I can barely remember the last Filipino or even Hollywood romance that had wit, much less intelligence). It's established early on, for example, that Padilla is popular in his impoverished little baranggay (village)--one of the film's conceits is that he's so popular everyone in the community submitted his name to the "Dream Date" contest in the hopes of seeing him with their favorite singing star (Velasquez), which explains why he won (cute; a stretch credibilitywise, but cute). He enjoys a standing among his people, and Velasquez's unintended snub was more than his honor can bear--hence his improvised kidnapping.

Which is pretty much a recap, in romantic-comedy form, of Padilla's public life to date. We know he has the ability to command the loyalty and affection of ordinary folk; we know he's popular with girls and gays (though with gays it's strictly "look, no touch"); we know he's given to impulsive acts of questionable legality (for which he's already spent time in prison); we know he's a die-hard romantic of a lover, who falls for all his leading ladies. We know all this and still we forgive his flaws, still we cheer him on--because he's not just the movie's leading man, he's our leading man; he has that indefinably quality that kept stars like Fernando Poe Jr., Joseph Estrada, James Stewart, John Wayne popular through the years.

It helps, I think that Bernal is directing; an accomplished editor, she knows how to pace the film, to keep it moving along. More, having an intelligent woman filmmaker take the famous Padilla machismo and--well, not exactly deconstruct it, but contribute her take on it--gives the movie an interesting tension. Bernal doesn't do much to soften his character--we still see his temper flareups, his tendency to talk with his fists rather than his brain--but she does see him as a kind of anachronism, one to be put up with and understood rather than put down and censured.

Which, incidentally, is where I think recent James Bond movies fail--instead of seeing Bond as the dinosaur that he is and honoring him for what he once represented (male European sexism), they updated him, made him politically correct--in short, emasculated him. Bond, and to a lesser extent Padilla, belong to an earlier age when men were men and women loved them as such; that's the basis of their appeal. Defanging them doesn't make them more interesting as characters, or help us understand them.

It also helps that in Velasquez, Bernal has a champion willing to fight for her sex, on both the ideological and comical front. She concedes little to Padilla's pride and reverse snobbishness (in this the film is spot-on accurate--the rich are proud, the poor prouder); she even engineers the film's fairly ingenious conclusion, bringing the whole story to a full circle. Better, she brings her own public persona and charisma and sense of humor to the role--at one point she's game enough to even make fun of her surgically improved nose (very distracting to look at). And she has a strong singing voice (the film manages to work in a few numbers--some of them, surprisingly, the picture's comic high points. Unsurprisingly, Viva Recording is promoting Velasquez's album based on the song score).

Kailangan Ko'y Ikaw is a hit--the theater I saw it in had people sitting in the aisles. It's heartening to think that at a time when the local film industry seems to be in a depression people still love to go see a movie; it's even more heartening to think this particular movie is not unworthy of their love--that it earns that love through heart and skill and carefully crafted humor. The film isn't the best local film I've seen this year--it lacks the harrowing realism of Tikoy Aguiluz's Biyaheng Langit (Paradise Express, 2000), or the poetic ferocity of Mario O'Hara's Pangarap ng Puso (Demons, 2000)--but it pretty much stands head and shoulders above everything else.

(Excerpt taken from Critic After Dark: A Review of Philippine Cinema. Click here to order online.)


Quentin Tarantado said...

Sure, Joyce Bernal for National Artist. It would be nice to say I once went to school with a National Artist. But throw in Mario O'Hara as well (yeah, yeah I'm repeating myself). He's the OBVIOUS choice. Oh, and maybe Aureaus Solito as well for Film and Theater.

Noel Vera said...

If I have to start thinking of what we owe O'Hara in terms of honor and recognition, I'd drive myself crazy. Or maybe that's what already happened, only I haven't admitted it to myself yet.

Unknown said...

All I know right now is I like Bb. Joyce Bernal

Noel Vera said...

Thass cool