Wednesday, November 29, 2023

In His Mother's Eyes


Timothy Mananquil (LA Santos) is a special child who grows up with his uncle Bibs (Roderick Paulate) after his mother Lucy (Maricel Soriano) leaves both of them behind so she can fly to Japan and work there to financially support them. All communications stop five years later, uncle and nephew deciding to move on with their lives and consider her dead. And then she comes back, 13 years later. Tim is now an adolescent being bullied at school for his condition, but has a happy disposition in life thanks to his uncle’s endless support as well as his friends’ encouragement. Her return shakes things up in a household where routine is key to the teenager’s overall wellbeing. Finding it difficult to reconnect with her son given his condition, Lucy also faces animosity from her brother for abandoning them. Will their family ever be whole again or should she just walk away like she always does?

I was contemplating on giving this four stars because of the autism awareness campaign. Unfortunately, it is not easy to forgive a screenplay that drags on for almost two hours, punctuated with uneven shouting matches here and there, just so it can pack its final fifteen minutes or so of screen time with revelations that will put your time-tested primetime soap operas to shame. The heart is there and the intention is pure, but In His Mother’s Eyes’ lazy execution might just end up lulling you to sleep.

Seeing Soriano and Paulate back in one frame has always been and will always be a delight. After all, these two were fixtures in Philippine cinema for everyone who was growing up in the late 80’s. Obviously, they are way older now and past their prime, even though there is still enough gravitas left in there to evoke an emotional response, as far as the drama scenes are concerned.

The attempt at comedy, however, can be deemed a failure, as most attempts on a punchline do not land as intended; the brand of comedy seemingly stuck in the early 90’s. Some dramatic scenes are unnecessarily interrupted by a corny one-liner, wasting the emotional build-up they work hard to develop. Most of the comedy scenes are also concentrated in the first half via the playful banter among Bibs and his best friends played by Ogie Diaz and Maila Gumila, leaving the film somewhat uneven.

Anything that tackles mental health issues is good in my book. As far as this film is concerned, it’s all about autism. It is not the focus on the autistic character which serves as an eye-opener, though, but rather the attitudes displayed by the people around him. It aptly summarizes the overall treatment of mental health and associated illnesses in the Philippines. Taboo. Forbidden. Lowbrow comedy. Despite the film’s shortcomings, every chance at opening a discourse about the topic is already a win, although it’s rather disheartening how people’s attitudes are so slow to change to be more tolerant of such, which the film challenges.

In the end, is In His Mother’s Eyes worth your overpriced 2023 movie ticket? The formula is very MMFF, which is probably the original and intended target, particularly for the family dramedy slot. I’d say it would’ve fared better had it been included in the festival. As a standalone feature, though, it seems to be nothing more than your typical OFW narrative given the special child twist. This is, without a doubt, a breakthrough role for Santos, and perhaps a welcome treat for long time fans of either Soriano or Paulate, or both. Other than that, there really is nothing groundbreaking here.

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