Thursday, September 12, 2019

Just a Stranger

♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

A married woman goes to church to confess. The neophyte priest hears the confession of Mae (Anne Curtis), who gives him a blow-by-blow recap of how she began an illicit affair with the 19-year-old son of the Philippine consul in Portugal. What started out as an excursion with her friends in Lisbon ended in infidelity, followed-up by more instances of maintaining an extra-marital affair with Jericho (Marco Gumabao) the moment they found themselves back in the Philippines. Her husband Phil (Edu Manzano) is aloof but curtails all her financial benefits anyway, not wanting to fund her betrayal. Jericho, on the other hand, welcomes the return of his girlfriend but still insists on seeing the older and more mature Mae. As they begin to genuinely fall for one another, they soon realize that their setup will never be accepted by the society they belong to, and soon they must come to a decision.

It’s obviously another story of cheating and third parties but what’s not clear is the intention as to what the film should really be. The banter between the two characters are fueled mostly by their age difference, which leads you to believe that this is aiming to be yet another May-December love affair narrative, a subgenre that is becoming more and more saturated lately because of the barrage of similar storylines both in the indie scene and in the mainstream. If this is the case, then Just a Stranger is simply not convincing.

For one, Curtis is not even old. She’s 34. Tell us that she is in her mid-20’s in this film and we will believe you without dispute. Gumabao, on the contrary, is in his mid-20’s. Take away the bangs and the short shorts, pun intended, and he can easily pass off as a guy in his late 20’s. Perhaps the point is that these two actors can easily be within the same age range for the mere fact that they look the part. If the idea was to come up with another May-December storyline, then they should have chosen an actor under 20 or an actress in her 40’s.

Or maybe there’s just a shortage in terms of supply? Angel Aquino already did Glorious, while Sunshine Cruz and Mylene Dizon just starred in Malamaya and Belle Douleur, respectively. Ina Raymundo would have been a perfect choice, though. In any case, age issues aside, both Curtis and Gumabao try their best to highlight the differences of their characters as far as the issue of maturity is concerned through their nuances in acting as well as their personalities. Their mutual feeling of being out of place in the world they operate in unites them both and serves as their common ground.

Even then, the style the film is aiming for is kind of hard to deduce. Is it mocking the genre? The funny quips here and there seem to suggest so, but it doesn’t go savage all the way to be considered as a parody of sorts. There are also some other aspects of characterization that are not clear. For example, it is hinted that Mae used to be an escort, but her diction and world view suggest that she is either well-bred or educated abroad. If we are to assume that she is just quick to adapt to the new lifestyle she now has, then that scene at the convention where she felt so out of place negates this theory.

Inconsistencies aside, Just a Stranger is still fun to watch. Using Lisbon and San Fernando as the backdrop made sure that we get a free field trip even if the story gets derailed halfway through. The format of the neophyte priest suddenly becoming Mae’s shrink also provides much needed comic relief. Even then, it just feels like a bit of a downgrade given how Curtis had BuyBust and Sid & Aya last year, the former being critically-acclaimed and the latter being a fan favorite. Or perhaps she just wants a break? We’re fine with that. Hopefully, she bounces back next year with something provocative and out-of-the-box. She has already outgrown this genre.

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