Friday, September 29, 2023

A Very Good Girl


Vicious entrepreneur Molly (Dolly de Leon) owns a chain of Mother Malls all around the country and is courting investors for the construction of another one which will coincide with her 50th birthday. Young socialite Philo (Kathryn Bernardo) does her best to fall into her good graces and eventually succeeds after multiple attempts to earn her trust. In reality, Philo’s name is Mercy, and she has an axe to grind with Molly who happens to be her ex-boss who fired her, inadvertently leading to her mother’s death. She plots all the supporting characters on whom the woman relies and targets all of them in her elaborate plan to seek justice. As the pawns fall one by one and she becomes her frenemy’s new girl friday, Philo is suddenly faced with the epiphany that she and her ex employer/now BFF might not be so different after all. Will she get the justice she pursues or will she become the very monster she is trying to slay?

The design is very Parasite. The plot execution is very Mean Girls. The denouement is a cop out which could summarily be dismissed as lazy writing, but easily forgiven thanks to the moral dilemma they slap you with at the climax, which in turn merits some well-deserved round of applause for making you second guess the predictable ending you already formulated in your head. If anything, what A Very Good Girl proves is that Philippine cinema can produce narratives that are one notch above the usual love team fodder in the mainstream or the typical poverty porn in the indie scene.

As such, A Very Good Girl comes across as five-stars material, if you frame your analysis vis-a-vis other Filipino film offerings, even more so if you limit that even further to just Star Cinema movies in the last three decades. However, since the ambition is palpable to level up to international productions, we will settle with four stars. Why so? There is a lot to improve on. The non traditional exposition is already there and just needs to be honed to adjust to the ordinary Filipino moviegoer. The script and the plot can still be polished some more to be on par with foreign films making their rounds in the festival circuit.

There has never been any doubt about Bernardo’s acting prowess. She started out as a child actor and cemented her future star status when she appeared, at the age of 13 or 14, in a daring role as a younger Gretchen Barretto in a soap opera. After that she had to go through the love team route and stagnate there. This change of image should have come a long time ago, but it’s never too late. She might want to go and try the indie route to improve her skills even further. Goodbye teenybopper, hello nitty-gritty. She is young, and this is the best time for her to explore options to elevate her craft.

De Leon delivers, as expected, although it feels like she is suddenly everywhere from Cinemalaya to mainstream ever since she received accolades abroad for Triangle of Sadness. While we are happy that she is finally getting the recognition she deserves, it always harks back to that Filipino cultural defect of not giving credit where, or to whom, it is due. You really have to make a name for yourself globally first, only after that will Filipinos back home start flocking to you via pride of association. In any case, we are all proud of Dolly de Leon. May she continue to mother and serve us more kickass roles left and right.

And so, the verdict. Is A Very Good Girl deserving of your hard-earned peso? Definitely. It is your typically delicious revenge story served on an attention-grabbing glitz and glamor platter peppered with just the right amount of social commentary. The acting is credible and the film marks a long-awaited departure from your usual Star Cinema fare. Considering the dearth of Filipino movies being released nowadays, films like this do make it worth the wait.

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