Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Super Parental Guardians

Running into her BFF after a long time, Sarah (Matet de Leon) entrusts the safety of her two young sons Melvin (Awra Briguela) and Ernie (Onyok Pineda) to Arci (Vice Ganda). Working for an influential politician, he seems to be the better option for child custody as opposed to her brother Paco (Coco Martin), a gang leader in the dangerous slum area where they reside. When she inevitable ends up dead with a knife on her torso and a placard on her body saying “Balut Addict”, Arci steps in and attempts to fulfill his promise, but Paco does not yield. He eventually does when he realizes that he can't really provide for his two nephews. Together, the three relocate to Arci’s house and form a rather non-conventional family, until danger knocks on their door again with some grim memories of the recent past.

The Super Parental Guardians feels different from previous Vice Ganda movies. We should have seen this coming from miles away given the tired formula that they recycle over and over and over again but the late Wenn Derramas, despite all the criticisms he had to endure, had this sort of style that just jived well with mass expectations. He knew how to catch their attention with his tried and tested tropes, which are notably absent in this film. The punchlines have always been predictable, but here they just fall flat. The sound effects that should have helped strengthen comic timing are all over the place as well and don’t really achieve the desired impact. Overall, it felt like a low-budget Viva comedy directed by Tony Reyes. Laughter at the cinema was scarce.

The movie is unnecessarily and, excruciatingly, long. Many of the sequences lack cohesion and are more of rehashed desperate attempts at comedy, a montage of unrelated scenes that do not tell a story but rather showcase the individual shticks that the actors are known for. The dynamics among Vice Ganda and his sidekicks remain to be the same stand-up technique they use effective mainly in comedy bars. Such style has long lost its novelty in the big screen because the shock and awe approach requires the element of surprise, and with the predictable filmography Vice Ganda has on offer every year, no one is expecting anything new anymore. Perhaps, a game of reinvention is long overdue? The last few minutes of the train station scene did not make any sense at all. It seemed more like an unimaginative pastiche of popular pop culture references from Pokémon Go to Train to Busan. They aren’t there to contribute anything substantial to the plot. They are there just for the sake of being there, because they are current.

I couldn’t agree more with the reviews I’ve read which point out how the narrative is teeming with socially relevant issues that could have been tackled and given importance, but summarily dismissed in favor of cheap laughs. Bullying. Turf wars. Extra-judicial killings. The state of LGBT affairs in Philippine society. As they said, every single opportunity to make either a stand or a difference was squandered. It is unfortunate because these topics are so timely and relatable, and making fun of them will not really sit well with those who have experienced such incidents firsthand. But to delve into this matter means to bring up the quintessential argument regarding the role of cinema in society. Should films be made to entertain or to educate? And what’s the current discrepancy between the “should” and the “is”?

In a perfect world, it should be a mix of both. In the third world, however, we need not kid ourselves and pretend that our national cinema is revolutionary. In fact, it has been stagnant for a while, with notable exceptions ending up grossly unappreciated by the general viewing public. It’s the typical chicken or egg question. Do Filipinos love popcorn flicks that insult their intelligence because that’s the only choice available or do these local film producers serve such features because they know that’s what the public wants anyway? Should a smaller sector of society really have a say on how the masses spend their money on movies just because they think their taste is somehow superior? Who dictates what? It’s a controversial theme with a lot of different aspects to consider and always comes up whenever this kind of mainstream fodder surfaces, although arguing about it in this environment seems academic at best.

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