Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mga Mumunting Lihim

Leaving her husband and two boys behind, Mariel (Judy Ann Santos) succumbs to cancer. She leaves a sealed box to her best friend Carla (Iza Calzado), who receives the package after the wake and finds out that it contains all of her friend’s diaries. Bewildered as to why she was chosen to receive the said journals, she reads them one by one, discovering all the detailed observations, anxieties, and truths about her departed friend. Every flip of the page brings about new open secrets that friends would rather keep mum about, such as Sandra’s (Agot Isidro) decision to marry an old man who could support her materialistic drive, or Olive’s (Janice de Belen) good-looking but dumb husband how many years her junior whom she supposedly married out of desperation. Confrontations arise as more pages are scanned, provoking the three to re-evaluate their friendship in the midst of the no-holds-barred observations courtesy of their dead friend.

This is one of those movies that make you laugh without trying too hard, a far cry from the formulaic mainstream cinema fodder torturing us every other month. Here, either the crudity of the dialogue or the brilliant characterization and its portrayal is enough to elicit laughter that is not forced, but heartfelt nonetheless. Tagging the film as maindie is perhaps just appropriate as it is that kind of movie that would probably have moderate success if it crosses over to mainstream while maintaining the overall feel of an indie movie owing to the non-conventional plot and its departure from formula.

What is awesome is how it makes you laugh while urging you at the same time to reflect on some of the various societal norms that we subscribe and have gotten so used to and that we no longer question, despite the oddities that they present. Is there a non-written code of friendship that tells us to steer clear from issues that we consider taboo when we are together, but on the contrary, we’d gladly talk about when the person in question is not present? Is it a phenomenon in human communication or simply that natural tendency for people to prefer the maintenance of the status quo? Realizations that make you think. That is what this movie brings along with the laughter, something that mainstream comedy puts aside in favor of convoluted attempts to force a laugh out of your system. Are we not glad that Cinemalaya exists! It makes you believe that there is still hope for the local movie industry.

In terms of acting, there really is nothing to complain about. Any of the four women in this movie could win an award and no one would probably contest. Both Janice de Belen and Agot Isidro fully embrace their roles that you just could not help but adore them in spite of their respective quirks.

Judy Ann Santos is relegated to the flashback scenes, which is perfectly understandable because her character is dead and this is not a horror movie. When we say Judy Ann, we usually remember her teenybopper days when she was popular for playing weak characters that you would gladly hit with a dipper on the head for being plain stupid. Nowadays, she gets to portray stronger roles, flawed women who are not cardboard characters made for the mere reason of being pitied. She has indeed matured as an actress, and the continuous evolution of her craft leaves you satisfied every time.

Iza Calzado could be considered as the lead because the plot is anchored on her character. Although her Carla does not have the rawness of Judy Ann’s Mariel, or the colorful personality of Agot’s Sandra, or the bravura coarseness of Janice’s Olive, it is the consistency of her portrayal from beginning to end that gives this movie the balance that makes every plot element work, and for that she also deserves the kudos, at least. Suffice it to say that this is a well-acted ensemble film.

Yes, I am giving it five clovers because I enjoyed it; it made me reflect on the oddity of the society that I am part of; and I laughed, without having to torture myself by watching people do exaggerated non-sense that is supposed to be funny because that is what the formula dictates. Overall, it is an honest glimpse on the oddity of some aspects of friendship; a good mix of hilarity and sense that mainstream comedies could only dream to achieve.

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