Cinema can be categorized by way of its influence to its audience. There is one that uplifts the spirit, summons hope and encourages a positive outlook. At the other end of the spectrum is the type that provides the opposite and depicts the world as a realist’s nightmare. But we all know that despite difficulties, life isn’t shrouded by mere bleak scenarios. We live in a realm that’s somewhere in between. And we try to live by these crutches.
We see ourselves in Vangie (Ina Feleo) who navigates her dysfunctional world with a sense of detachment. She is a film editor, has a son from Joey (Jomari Yllana), an Obstetrician. But though they have a harmonious, even amorous, relationship, Vangie can’t commit, and rebuffs all refrains of a matrimonial proposal. What gives?
One day, Vangie learns that his older brother Johnny (Marvin Agustin), a hard working priest serving 12 barrios in a remote rural area, has fallen ill to leukemia, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) to be exact; a cancer characterized by rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere in the production of normal blood cells. It is the most common form of leukemia afflicting adults, and is mostly fatal. This has brought her family together: a bitter mother Chato (Shamaine Centenera) who’s still sporting a heartbreak from her husband Mario’s (Noni Buencamino) infidelity. Mario was a Middle East worker but has since been retrenched and currently unemployed.
Conditions get tougher when Johnny’s Chemotherapy hasn’t translated into remissions. They had to proceed to the next step, i.e. Bone Marrow Transplant, a procedure that petrifies Vangie, his brother’s perfect donor. But that wasn’t even the least of their worries, what with fast dwindling finances. They had to eventually sell their house and Vangie’s car.
At some point, we feel their journey to be disquieting, but the fact is, we don’t give up on family; for who else overcomes these encumbrances than the ties that bind. We do have to emphasize that the film highlights the family’s devotion to the miraculous Our Lady of Penafrancia of Bicol whom the devotees lovingly refer to as “Ina”, making Ina Feleo’s star turn nothing short of serendipitous. We earlier had reservations with Ina Feleo, but she acquits herself tremendously as she steers her character in rich layers of nuances. She is at once tough and vulnerable, disaffiliate and forbearing, and on the whole, a luminous character that is as beautifully written as it is depicted.
On the whole, we find hope in the dysfunctionality of this family. We find hope in the simple fact that despite our imperfections, it’s alright to be human; it’s alright to be weak and fall as long as we learn to get up and start again; it’s alright to believe in the love and power of an omnipresent entity. Faith, indeed, never encumbers, but uplifts. And the message of director Marilou Diaz Abaya’s domestic drama, “Ikaw Ang Pag-ibig” eventually conquers rational, albeit sentient skepticism.
At the opposite side of the spectrum is Jun Lana’s “My Neighbor’s Wife” which parades a coterie of highflying characters. We have a med rep (Lovi Poe) who couldn’t keep away from the finer things in life (Does she need medication?); the medicine graduate (Dennis Trillo) who prefers fixing cars than taking the board exam (Go figure); a womanizing cad (Jake Cuenca) who prefers other women over his obviously more beautiful wife (Was he blind or cerebrally challenged?); a wife (Carla Abellana) who succumbs to the seduction of an underachieving and droll lover (Was she desperate or just plain moronic?)!
Lovi Poe once again enveigles an insightful performance that belies the stark mediocrity of the material, and Carla Abellana doesn’t slack either, but there’s not much merit that the production offers. The changing-partners strain is too laboriously unexciting, I had to control myself from walking out of the cinema from fatal boredom. Jake Cuenca, for example, is as shallow as the muscle-bound buttocks he proudly showed off. When he's given the limelight for a spiel: "Muntik na kayong mawala sa akin. Di ko kayang mawala kayo sa akin. Magbabago na ako. Give me a chance." - we were frozen stiff. He had the emotive capacity of an igneous rock! Sincerity isn’t among Cuenca’s strong traits. As for Trillo, where has all the promise gone? We used to place him in high regard. Unfortunately, he has settled into a passive performer with docile affectations. Trillo bores us as much as Cuenca repels with the latters elementary effort.
The film tries to make light of the contrivances by using smart alecky lines that feel like circus acts: "Hindi ako magaling magluto pero magaling ako sa kama. (I'm not good in the kitchen, but great in bed.) I'm worth it and I deserve better." They even find delight in using something as banal as "kangkangan" it reminds me of Seiko Films' "Itlog", "Kangkong", "Bakat", "Tikim", "Arayyy!", "Patikim ng Pinya", "Linggo Lang ang Pahinga" and similar masterpieces. Classy, right?
The conceit in the film lies in the epilogue articulating that everything that transpired in the lives of Bullet (Jake), Jasmine (Carla), Aaron (Trillo) and Charlene (Lovi) was a product of Trillo's vengeful ministrations. This coming from someone who studied medicine for 10 years only to end up playing automechanic. And he wasn't even good at it. Brilliant, right? LOL. We totally get the twisty detour. Such incandescent idea. Bravo!
With a narrative that feels like homage to the long-winded melodramas of the 80’s and the early 90’s, “My Neighbor’s Wife” is a picture of moral defeatism. These are despicable individuals with absolutely no hint of character redemption. Scriptwriter and director Jun Lana fields characters that are so unrelatable and unsympathetic we leave the cinema wishing that they all conflagrate to a crisp burn - in hell.