Monday, November 30, 2020

Finding Agnes

♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

A young Agnes Rivero (Roxanne Guinoo) abandons her family, promising her son that she will come back for him once he is done solving his Rubik’s Cube. She doesn’t. 25 years later, Brix (Jelson Bay) is now a successful businessman jetting off just about everywhere for his business empire. One busy afternoon during a client meeting he gets a visit from an unexpected guest. An older Agnes (Sandy Andolong) begs for her son’s forgiveness, which she easily gets, but their reunion more than two decades in the making is cut short when she suffers a stroke. Leaving behind a box of letters hidden by the boy’s father, Brix discovers the life his mother has lived in Morocco and decides to take a flight to fix the legal documents for the bed and breakfast she left behind. There he meets Cathy (Sue Ramirez), a young woman his mom considers to be her own daughter. Together, they go on a journey around the country to find the late Agnes.

The thing about narratives like this is that you need to come up with a screenplay that will convince your viewers to care about the titular character. In this case, about finding Agnes. We all know why Brix and Cathy have to do so, and we empathize with them, but we also need to be drawn to the character to actually give a damn. Otherwise, the viewing experience will just seem to be us getting dragged into someone else’s drama that we are not really interested in. That is one of the weaknesses of the script.

Despite Andolong lending a few minutes of acting masterclass, her character does not really give you any compelling reason to find her. One thing they get right, though, is casting Guinoo as her younger version. The resemblance is uncanny. Are they related? Guinoo gets more scenes in flashbacks which help answer some questions, but still do not elicit much sympathy. Perhaps the screenplay is to blame? Stories like this usually benefit from a more mysterious treatment using intrigue to keep the audience ever so curious, eventually leading to a dramatic revelation that provokes reflection. That element is missing here.

A short Google search about Bay reveals that he is a comedian. Comedians usually surprise their audience when they dabble into drama, earning elusive acting accolades in the process. Bay does not seem to belong to that breed of actors. In fairness to him, he tries, but there are just too many scenes that are far too awkward to trigger the intended emotions. If the guy’s talent hinges more on comedy, then maybe the best path would have been to go down that route. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see a newbie tackle such a role. Not every lead actor has to be a matinee idol, but the risk does not pay off in this case.

Ramirez can also do comedy, which is why it would have been a better gamble had they made a comedy feature instead. Cathy’s subplot runs parallel to that of Brix but is not really given due attention until it is already too late for the audience to be emotionally invested. You end up with that lingering feeling that she is underutilized in this film. She could have probably given more, but the storyline simply does not allow her to do so. It is a good performance, though not her best, and she is not at fault.

While there is an attempt not to fall into the trap of letting the setting outshine the actors, taking advantage of the diverse locations Morocco has to offer could have given a much-needed distraction from the plot, which starts to drag a bit after the first act. The approach would have been trying hard to be mainstream, but at least it could have made this movie more interesting. In the end, this film just comes across as too pedestrian, neither having the appeal of a formulaic Filipino blockbuster nor the hard-hitting emotional kick of a conventional indie flick.

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