I chanced upon a late television show a few weeks ago that had two groups of the most flamboyant gay teens fighting over the loss of a cellphone (someone stole it and curiously returned it broken 2 weeks later). The show is called “Public Atorni” patterned after a US court show called “People’s Court”. The aforementioned court hears small claims, promotes mediation and dispute resolution. The show mostly tackles the pettiest squabbles that should’ve been dealt with among them than on TV, but hey, the livid accusations sometimes make for a diverting nighcap, i.e. if you’ve no better things to do than watch a female lawyer exercise her theatricality, with hilarious effects. Atty. Persida Rueda-Acosta, Public Attorney’s Office chief, hears the cases, then animatedly points to warring characters – “Asunto o areglo!” – as though her audience are a bunch of deaf dweebs. Besides, isn’t she aware that “pointing fingers” is actually bad manners? There are ethical books on this, so we’re prone to point that out. Anyway, we’re diverting!
The point being: Despite the almost trivial proceedings, the freewheeling verbal tussle between these pubescent homosexuals, you couldn’t help but listen and be amused! They have such florid ways of throwing verbal punches, not dissimilar to the smart exchanges found in comedy bars! They are entertaining and I was laughing myself out!
A few days ago, I watched Ruel S. Bayani’s “No Other Woman” and I could swear I’m transported back to that court house. It’s one drag show all over again! And though this was supposedly a domestic drama, I had the time of my life laughing away!
Ram and Charmaine (Derek Ramsay and Cristine Reyes, respectively) make a loving young couple. Ram supplies furnitures for luxury resorts, but he struggles to rise above a negligent father and her father-in-law’s leering condescension. One day, he meets breezy and free-spirited Kara (Anne Curtis), daughter of the resort owner (Tirso Cruz III) he’s peddling his furniture wares at. Though Ram once vowed to be faithful, his resolve weakens where Kara’s concerned. After all, she knew he was married and she’s vowed never to be a “kabit” (mistress). This was just a consensual lay in the hay between consenting adults... with no emotional involvement!
Unfortunately, these trysts soon turn addicting (i.e. habit-forming). When Charmaine (Ram’s wife) begins suspecting there’s more to Ram’s constant disappearances, not to mention his hickeys, the philandering couple is already in too deep in their affair. They’re starting to care! That’s when Charmaine realizes that she must fight back and claim ownership to what’s rightfully hers. What becomes of Kara?
We’ve heard of such marital predicaments and situational narrative before, but what keeps “No Other Woman” entertaining is its campy approach to the arguments. Heck, even Charmaine’s mom (Carmi Martin) gushes with hissy lines as though she’s the anointed guru of relationships (she isn’t, her hubby’s probably jumping from one affair to the next): “Ang mundo ay isang malaking Quiapo, maraming snatcher. Maagawan ka. Lumaban ka!” Then: “Panahon na para i-pack mo na yang Lucy Torres mo, ilabas mo na diyan si Gretchen Barretto. Ako na ang bahala sa red stiletto mo!” And there’s more: “Ano ba’ng mahirap kalaban? Ang putang mahirap o ang putang mayaman?” Answer: “Pare-parehong puta lang yun!” I was going to stand up and curtsy, but I waited because I realized there could be more. I was right: “I’ll never be a pathetic boring housewife,” delivered with so much chili relish, my palate was clapping with glee. If you’ve heard the verbal exchange among the teen homosexuals in “Public Atorni”, you’d agree that they could fit perfectly into the film’s campy catfights!
Anne Curtis has always been competent with characters she's portrayed in the past, but that’s mainly because she coasts on her charisma and earnestness. "No Other Woman" is a departure from her usual girl-next-door persona (Yup, even her "Babe, I Love You" character was a doll!) In this film, Anne plays the delightful vamp to the hilt and doesn’t do badly as a concubine, which is a surprise since she is cast against type. However, it’s really Cristine Reyes who succeeds in controlled thespic strokes. She has obviously learned much from her older sister (Ara Mina, a great actress) how insight and sincerity are mined from within. When Cristine wails, “Bakit? May kulang ba sa luto ko? Pangit ba ako? Mababaliw ako sa kakaisip!” - you knew she meant it! And the film, and all its ill-advised humor, becomes real.
There are a number of mind benders in the story. You’re courting for trouble when you take your jealous wife to where your jealous mistress is - or is that such an alien concept? It was a hammer waiting to hit you in the head. And if such action wasn't meant to spite a lover, think of what Kara can do in her own territory! She is, if Ram didn’t realize, the owner’s daughter and is quite the power-wielding royalty in their own resort. She could castrate Ram if she wanted to. Of course, it makes for an explosive confrontation, but a realist’s option it sure isn’t. There’s more: Why would a “mistress” accept a wife’s invitation for dinner unless she’s bracing for a big meltdown. There are a couple of things worth noting here: delicadeza and guilt, not to mention “common sense”, but then maybe “sense” is farthest in the scriptwriter’s mind when he wrote this scene. In another, Kara shouts an accusation at Ram, "Minahal mo ba ako?" But wasn't she the one who smugly declared, "Shut up and kiss me, and don't you dare fall in love with me?" Who's contradicting herself?
Even the mistress' dad (Tirso Cruz III) is given acidic lines that might as well come from my Values Education teacher: "If you stop hating your father so much, maybe you'll turn into a better person." I was astounded. After all, he himself hated Ram's dad (a former friend and business partner who once defrauded him) so that line felt incongruent to the story. You do realize this overkill was unregulated. The audience would lap it up anyway, debah?
There's a lot of things that caught my (and my bff Iyaya's) attention in the movie: The hand bags are to die for, the shoes divine, and the bathing suits va-va-voom! Curtis and Reyes were such epitomes of beauty, and Derek overflowed with machismo! Unfortunately, all these don't make an excellent movie. It's gay fantasia filled with the most delectable battle lines, the ones we can only dream of using when confronted with usurpers in real life ("Baka makita mo pang nilagyan ko ng lason ang pagkain.") Otherwise, in a realist's world, the mistress clams up; the embarrassed wife runs home in tears; and there's no audience applauding a heated confrontation.
The last part turns messier than expected (Charmaine taunts Kara while the latter’s lounging peacefully by the poolside; Ram’s midnight visit into Kara’s room; the avoidable vehicular accident), each strain as manipulative – canny and circumspect – and “straight out of a cheap teleserye”. You bet!
Anne Curtis as lovely Kara