Mainstream movie making has come to this.
In the not so distant past, a “GMA Film” was once synonymous with “landmark, quality films”. Everyone was proud and excited being in one. And film lovers looked forward to these screenings. But those, sadly, were the days. Nowadays, a GMA Film is equivalent to diarrheaic stools (Remember “I.T.A.L.Y.” ?) And as I said earlier, it has come to something as banal as “My Valentine Girls”.
Patronize Tagalog films?
Patronage, much like “respect”, has to be deserved; not imposed! Isn’t it enough we’re paying admission fee to be dumbed down by such pile of crap? But to really heap praises on something this mediocre is too much to ask. Let’s take note of the fact that this was “Rated B” – “Basura” anyone? – by those idiots at Cinema Evaluations Board (C.E.B.)
The movie is a cluster of 3 short stories from the imagination of novelist Arvin Perez (Richard Gutierrez) who’s summoning inspiration to finish his anthology. But where does he derive inspiration when his romantic plate is nil? He gets by, apparently. We are then taken to these shorts.
In “Soulmates”, Oslec (a taxi driver, played by Gutierrez) and Aia (a fashion designer, played by Rhian Ramos) figure in a fatal vehicular accident that left Oslec’s soul wandering restlessly, unable to find closure with his mourning family. He seeks the help of Aia, the girl who run him over while he was fixing a flat tire. Oslec needed Aia’s company to be able to get back home (why he couldn’t do it on his own is a great mystery... he’s a “ghost”, for crying out loud; someone who could walk through walls and inanimate objects). The reluctant Aia acquiesce, giving them ample time to know each other and even check out their bucket list (“to make the most of our time”) – by taking a day out at the Enchanted Kingdom! This paved the way to a budding romance that eventually subtends a twist that left me chuckling down my chair. But just when you thought it was safe, there had to be another twist (in all its half-witted redundancy) that contests the boundaries of plausibility!
This segment is particularly careless, almost to an asinine level. One scene has Gutierrez visiting Aia’s home. When he knocked and found the door ajar, he comes in without an invitation and even finds his way to Aia’s deserted room upstairs, gazing through picture frames and Aia’s personal stuff. When her dad (Lloyd Samartino) finds the stranger strolling around their modern abode, he asks, “Sino ka?” He replies, “Kaibigan ako ni Aia.” So friendship gives him liberty to gallivant around a friend’s house without the owner’s consent? If I find a stranger going through my stuff at a second floor room, I’d call the police and have this trespasser arrested for breaking and entering! After all, if he was a friend, why doesn’t Aia’s father know him? An iota of brain cells should suffice to understand that something is amiss in the narrative’s logic!
In a scene where Aia is disrobing as she prepares for shower, she suddenly finds an audience in Oslec who’s comfortably sitting at the tub. He shrieks, “Bakit kasi dito ka naghuhubad, eh alam mo namang may nagmumulto!” Can’t it be because it’s her bathroom? Where else does he expect Aia to strip and bathe? Now have you ever encountered such an exasperatingly dumb ghost?
And really now, making the most of your time means going to Enchanted Kingdom? Babaw huh!
The most glaring faux pas in “Soulmates” is the characters’ inability to recognize that they were both itinerant souls! But if both of them were, why then was Aia able to interact with people and inanimate objects; even pay admission fees at the leisure park, join queues at the rides, etc. If you are referencing Zac Efron's "Charlie St. Cloud" - where there were two "ghosts" in the story, you'd have to assure better story telling at the very least. If there was a brain involved in the conception of this story, it would be, in Miriam Santiago parlance, that of a one-celled amoeba!
The culprit in this syllogistically challenged story is director Dom Zapanta!
Chris Martinez’s “Gunaw” is a satirical echoing of the apocalyptic zombie yarn (and hit TV series) ”Walking Dead”. It’s been three years after frolicking North Korean lovers (John Lapuz and Maureen Larrazabal) accidentally pushed the button that culminated in the holocaust. Aidan (Gutierrez) is scouring the earth in search for other survivors (he woke up to a lifeless world, but for the occasional zombies). One day, he finds Ivy (a former bank manager, played by Eugene Domingo) who’s bulheaded to repopulate the world with a worthy male. And who could be a more perfect male specimen that Aidan who’s just 1 inch shorter than Ivy’s criteria. “Pwede na,” she opines. But Aidan has more pressing matters in mind. i.e. to find other survivors. One fateful night, they find a congregation of virile men who went ape when they found Ivy, the lone female survivor in the world. Ivy’s ecstatic over their attention. What becomes of Aidan?
This portion is easily better than “BBFF” or “Soulmates”. The production design depicting a cataclysmic world is adequate and Eugene Domingo, who eerily resembles Shrek’s Princess Fiona, is volubly adorable. Did you expect anything less from Domingo who’s queen of the peanut gallery?
To say that “Gunaw” is in the realm of Shake, Rattle & Roll’s “Punerarya” is unfair to the latter. For one, this script is riddled with inconsistencies. In several lines, you get the impression that the world ended from a nuclear warfare. In another scene, it was biological (thus explaining the zombies), churned out by "first world power" - but North Korea is far from being "first world", isn't it? And obviously, nuclear is different from biological!
“Punerarya” is beautifully threshed out in all its narrative flourishes; “Gunaw” feels too superficial, too narratively emaciated and derivative to be seriously considered a notable work. It ends up like a bad parody of well loved zombie movies. Where else do you find zombies who hesitate when pointed a gun? Better yet, where do you find jogging zombie athletes when earlier in the scene, they were referred to as slow pokes, “Ang babagal ng mga yon!” Ano ba talaga, ate?
Andoy Ranay’s “BBFF” is MVG’s most contrived. Zack (Gutierrez) and Andi (Solenn Heusaff) are two peas in a pod. They’re inseparable as best friends so much so that at a dinner date, Zack (a lawyer) professes, “You’re my number one”. The dolphin trainer replies with a curt, “You’re crazy!” Ouch! Andi then sets Zack on a blind date with fellow lawyer Rubi (Lovi Poe). Sparks fly and the two start spending more time together than the best friends. This bothers Andi. What follows is a rather predictable yarn we’ve seen a million times in other better told rom-coms.
I do have scruples gobbling Gutierrez and Lovi as lawyers, it was like walking the thin line to follow the story. Lovi is lovely (and singsongs her lines like KC Concepcion) but she dresses like she was gonna party all the time. If she was a Toronto-bred lawyer, I would be Angelina Jolie. The dialog is rather more cinematically conceived but mostly baffling. Take this: While Lovi was on her hospital bed, she had to console Gutierrez with a line that doesn’t bear any connection to the story line: “I have to let you go, para mahalin mo ang sarili mo.” Beautiful, right? Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the story that shows Gutierrez not loving himself! He isn’t a drunkard, an addict, a workaholic – thus it is baffling to hear that line from a character who was actually hurt (she was shot by a stray). Cinematic, but disconnected.
In a scene at the hospital, we’d find Lovi sitting on a wheelchair, decked in a hospital gown. Richard comes over to hug her tight.Teka! Wasn’t she shot right where the heart is? No chest bandages? No breast wounds? Which reminds me of a scene in the earlier “Soulmates”: Richard was confined to his hospital bed (yes, again!), with a tube down her throat, which means it would be quite a feat to produce a sound from an intubated mouth and throat. Yet, when Richard finally wakes up, he finds his mother (Princess Punzalan) at his bedside. He then speaks very clearly: “Nay!” Nothing short of a miracle to do so when you have a tube hooked down your pulmonary passages! Didn’t I say MVG is amazing?
Lovi Poe is affecting when you aren’t distracted by her garbs, high heels, peekaboo slinky designer night dresses. A simple line like “Wag mo naman akong gawing tanga” is heartfelt and sincere, a talent honed by Poe’s forays into the indie scene. Solenn Heusaff shows promise. She registers beautifully on screen, although her accent is still too organic to bridge empathy. I wouldn't mind watching Solenn in more films in the future, but I specifically remember her shutting her doors on a showbiz career. In a “Survivor” episode, she was heard saying, “Remember this. I will never become an artista after this.” Guess what?
Finally, Richard Gutierrez has to be commended for a spectacular turn in “My Valentine Girls”. In a film where he plays four characters: Arvin the writer, Oslec the taxi driver, Zack the lawyer and Aidan the holocaust survivor, it was hard to find any difference from any of the four. There is absolutely no delineation in terms of character evolution or development. His thick rimmed eyeglasses possessed more insight than the actor.
This is an inscrutable mystery to us. How does Richard Gutierrez turn out to be such a major ham when he comes from a family of actors? He is as sensitive as the pebble stones at our lanai.
In "My Valentine Girls", Gutierrez has succeeded in portraying four characters by way of a single emotionally incipient person with the sensitivity of a drying paint and the emotive capacity of eggplants! Now that is for the books!