Sam Milby's "Third World Happy" – Powerhouse Emotions in Understated Storytelling
It’s in the idle chatter that you realize the mind set of the people behind the film “Third World Happy”, Sam Milby’s sophomoric foray into the indie film scene.
In fact, one of its most crucial scenes ends up in an “ellipse”, a move that took us by surprise.
Thirteen years after Wesley (Sam Milby) has cryptically migrated to the States, he returns to attend the funeral of a relative. But it isn’t the grief that’s wearing Wesley down, but the deluge of questions from friends, more importantly from Aylynn (Jodi Sta. Maria), his erstwhile girlfriend whom he abandoned without much of an explanation.
When Aylynn learns of Wesley’s homecoming, she gets anxious and dismissive. These days, she is the single mother of a smart child who’s 13 years old. She obviously has disceptive issues with her ex boyfriend with whom she had nurtured a 7-year relationship before he up and went… without a word. And everyone has been hounding her of Wesley’s palpable presence. Without much fanfare, the pertinent questions beg to be asked: Has Wesley sired a child? Will Aylynn finally get the closure she deserves? Why does Wesley keep to himself? Is he staying for good? More importantly, isn't happiness possible in a third world existence?
The film tackles a simple story on (dis)contentment and finding happiness, on the repercussions of abandonment and closure in a very laidback manner. You won’t find flagrant emotions on display. No livid confrontation scenes, not even when bullies attacked one of Wesley’s friends who had fallen victim to the wiles of a loan shark.
There’s the impossibly delectable side story involving the funeral parlor owner’s daughter Achi and her intermittent verbal tussle with Wesley. She’s US-bred and wanted to write her masterpiece but, for some reason, she’s stuck in narrative abyss. She’s also come home to help out in her dad’s morbidly droll business. I thought for a while there was something humming in the undercurrent of her intimate conversations with Wesley. But nothing about this film is all that predictable.
Wesley, now 32, is in a relationship with a Fil-am doctor in New York where he works for an art shop instead of producing his own masterpiece as a painter. He initially kept dodging her calls but this homecoming has taught him a lesson or two about the pitfalls of realizing dreams that don’t quite come true; what it does to us, and how it affects the people around us. Each of us dreams of our own masterpieces. Unfortunately, a great deal of them don’t quite make the canvas. Real life happens, and bits and pieces of these aren’t always the savory food we’re meant to digest
I specifically remember both Sam Milby and Jodi Sta.Maria appearing together in Milby’s first indie effort in 2008’s “Cul de Sac”. Director EJ Salcedo’s “Third World Happy” is an even more realized ouvre that spotlights Milby and Sta.Maria’s undeniable chemistry and thespic chops. In the scene where Jodi’s Aylynn first visits the wake, we witness how Sta.Maria conveys silent anxiety and understated volatile agitation in delicious emotive splendor. Sta.Maria is truly emerging as one of this generation’s most insightful performers. In fact, we picked her performance as the year’s best (in supporting category) from 2010’s short list. How Urian can even pick Rosanna Roces for her mediocre role in Alix’s “Presa” is a big mystery to me; a testament to the gradual decline in the quality of the Manunuri’s once discriminating preference. After all, how can you keep a straight face when one of their big wigs (Butch Francisco) can easily pick out Marian Rivera’s batya-carrying superheroine role as “best performance” from a recent local film festival? But we’re deviating.
Stripped off his matinee idol countenance and those cumbersome teleserye lines, Milby carries an understated elegance as an intuitive performer. He has an immersive style that allows him a very consistent characterization. He’s even more effective in his silent moments, the way he exploits the facility of the eyes to express emotion. Sam Milby is indeed very proficient, and he rightfully belongs to a career in front of the camera.
In a classy artifice unheard of in Philippine cinema, Director Salcedo successfully experiments on his use of an “ellipse”. We’re not even sure if he’s aware of this. Ellipse, in cinematic narrative structure, is the elimination of a major event in the cinematic frame, popularized by Japanese master film maker Yasujiro Ozu. In “TWH”, the audience has been prepped up for a huge and loud confrontation scene when Aylynn finally meets Wesley again, the boy who abandoned her without an explanation. We were waiting for fireworks, but all we witnessed was their muted conversation. I was frozen stiff. In awe.
Achi and Wesley share their frustrations. She can't write her novel. He can't paint his masterpiece.
Sam Milby: Proficiency.
Jodi Sta.Maria: One of this generation's most insightful actresses.
Sam Milby takes on his 2nd indie work after the dramatic thriller "Cul de Sac" (2008).