Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mac Alejandre's Just One Summer - Unbearable Cluelessness

The world is Nyel Cuaresma’s (Elmo Magalona) oyster. He is a happy-go-lucky young man with a bright future ahead of him. Right off high school, Nyel is flying to the US to pursue his medical education. His mother Irene (Alice Dixson), a successful physician, is equally thrilled. But there’s a caveat to his hilarity. Nyel needs the written consent of his estranged father Dan (Joel Torre). And the latter has one condition: that Nyel spends his summer in his father's farm. Nyel huffs and puffs. He hates his father, and hasn’t seen him for several years. But he also realizes there’s no getting around this predicament. You’re a young man with clarity of vision, his mother proudly says about him.

At the farm, he begrudgingly reacquaints himself with his father who’s only too thrilled to have him home. He reckons he doesn’t need to be nice to him. It's his mere presence that his father requires, not good manners. That wasn't part of the deal. Dan manages a progressive dairy and agricultural farm alongside his new partner Juliet (Cherry Pie Picache). Bratty Nyel is mostly dismissive until he meets Beto (Julie Anne San Jose), a farm girl who’s been harboring a long standing crush on Nyel who, on the other hand, would rather not have anything to do with the girl who, on their first day together, vomited on him.

Meanwhile, Beto just came home from her Manila studies. She is burdened by an unpalatable news. She didn’t get the scholarship everyone back home expected. Yet upon her arrival, she gets a celebratory party from her father Berting (Buboy Garovillo), Lola Meding (Gloria Romero) and their neighbors. How can she break the bad news to her effusive townsfolk? But there’s a silver lining at the horizon. Senor Dan offers a deal. If she chaperones Nyel until he finds goodness and beauty in this quaint village, Senor Dan would pay for her tuition. While she’s tickled pink with the prospect of seeing Nyel on a daily basis, Nyel isn’t too fond of her. What’s a girl to do? Will Nyel ever comprehend the complicated truth about his parents who are finally getting an annulment? More importantly, would he allow Beto in his provincial sojourn? Guess.

Watching a Mac Alejandro film is like starting a day knowing you're getting your root canal later. There's no going around it: it will be excruciating. Now where do I start? So help me God...

Alejandre's main crutch is predictability, but that isn't what's painful. What drives me crazy is the incongruence of his characters to the scenes that he conjures. Let's take Elmo's character Nyel who is bratty and willful. He is also clearly ambitious because he would rather study Medicine in the United States while other Fil-Ams prefer coming home for this. Do we see him reflective, sedate, studious or considerate? We should expect such characteristics from someone like him, right? Not a chance! Alejandre instead shows him party-hopping, hanging around bars with his ditzy friends. Moreover, he's mostly rude to other people and even dismissive to his girls. Very doctorly, debah? In Tagalog, "hindi naaangkop" and "hindi tumutugma", kuya! Try being a "lawyer" kaya, kuya?

Meanwhile, we are made to believe that Nyel's father Dan, played by Joel Torre, is a doting parent; the affectionate patriarch of a broken family. Yet since his separation from his son, it seems he has never visited his son even once though it's clear that Nyel is just a car-ride away. If you're the caring father, would you never show yourself to your son just because you're at loggerheads with his mother? Can't you visit your son even once to show that you care? Heck, there was no reason for him to stay away for good since he seems to harbor an amicable, albeit civilized relationship with his ex-wife. Baka busy milking the cows? Yet in one scene, we find him accusing his former wife of allowing their son to think badly of him. Kapal yata ni kuya, debah? He didn't bother showing up for years yet he desires to be perceived as the loving parent. Now isn't this hilarious? Alejandre seems to be quite adept making unintentional comedies.


As for its romantic quotient, we never quite believed that Nyel actually felt anything amorous for the "farm girl" other than pity. After all, she had to complete 360 bottles (or thereabouts) of manual milk harvest to earn the amount equivalent for her tuition fee. And if it's all that easy to earn that much in Milkland, then every student wanting of tuition money should troop down to Senor Dan's milk farm. That way, every Filipino can go to school by merely milking cows! Furthermore, I gladly nominate Senor Dan as the new Secretary of Education, Culture and Sports. He could probably solve the dipping literacy rate of the country better than Mrs. Cynthia Villar and her foundation. Milk for Education! Milk for Unemployment! Milk for the Filipino Diapora! Milk for the Abu Sayyaf! Milk for GA Villafuerte and Crisaldo Pablo! Oppps, theirs are a different variety of milk. :) I should probably milk cows too that way I don't have to pay for such inane cinematic fare, debah?

In one scene, Nyel tells Beto: "Sana ako na lang ang Isko mo at ikaw na lang ang Iska ko," in reference to a farm cow shown only once. The scene wasn't even endearing or humorous - Nyel was wearing a red shirt, then Beto warned Nyel that the pesky animal might come after him. That was all there is about Isko, the bored carabao. They didn't exactly have any emotional connection because the scene was abruptly edited. And more importantly, there was no Iska to begin with! Why then would Nyel reference their budding romance to an "Isko and Iska" when Iska is but a figment of Alejandre's imagination? Scenes in this film desperately scrape the bottom. Isn't it sad?

In another scene, to show Joel Torre's affectionate relationship with Cherry Pie Picache, the two middle aged lovers are shown flirting in front of everyone. When Cherry Pie reminds Joel to moderate his drinking, the latter replies with "Makikita mo mamaya, baka ikaw ang susuko!" - in front of every one, including Elmo. Ewww! Are provincianos really this crass or vulgar? Aren't they more discrete with their affairs? More importantly, how insensitive can a father be, canoodling in public with his "mistress" (he's still married, if you forgot) while his son looks on?

When Alice Dixson, playing Nyel's mother and Joel Torre's common law wife, comes to visit, Cherry Pie prepares a velvety satin sheet on Alice's bed, then quips, "Paborito n'ya yan." How does she know this? Sure, they might have been childhood schoolmates, but they were never friends. In fact, when Cherry Pie was introduced to Alice, pouty Dixson hardly remembered her. Where did Cherry Pie get the idea regarding Alice's favorite sheets? Maybe she has this enviable 6th sense? Or 3rd eye? Maybe she stalked lovely Alice in her younger years?

Alejandre, boundlessly clueless as a scriptwriter, piles up his discordant narrative strains in "Just One Summer" as though he's never done a movie before! So you do wonder why GMA Films keeps getting his services. This guy simply marvels at being vacuous. Result? "Just One Summer" came and went with a mere two-day commercial screening in most cinemas from Aparri to Jolo. This is a curiosity because Elmo and Julie Ann's loveteam is said to have a considerable following. Where have the fans gone? Did they summarily suffer from diarrhea, erupting pimples, excruciating menstruation, borborygmus, hemorrhoids or maybe toothache on its first two days of screening, thus weren't able to patronize the first cinematic outing of their "idols"? While most Star Cinema films earn P100-million peso earnings within a week, this Mac Alejandre film stalls and bombs at a measly P6 million peso for its entire theatrical run! Heck, that can't adequately feed the hungry Tasadays, the Bagobos and Hayden Kho, can it?

Dan (Joel Torre) welcomes his son Nyel (Elmo Magalona) while Juliet (Cherry Pie Picache) looks on.

The performances leave much to be desired. While Julie Anne San Jose works hard, albeit with uneven results, Elmo Magalona's perfunctorized turn is shallow and absolutely wanting of insight. It makes you wonder how these two go through the motion like well-oiled robots. Then you realize that Ana Feleo, Laurice Guillen's other daughter, is prominently billed as their acting coach. What gives? Who made Feleo the thespian that she isn't? Anyone saw her play David Archuleta's droll road manager in the execrable teleserye "Nandito Ako" (directed, of course, by Alejandre)? I could go on and on about that series from its opening scenes to those gag-inducing flashbacks. Il est horrible, monsieur! Feleo, in her musical theater world, is notorious for being a ham actress. In fact, in one of her plays ("Spoliarium"), there were hushed talks that even her own voice teacher (Fides Cuyugan-Asencio of "Aparisyon") - who was part of the musical - wanted her out of the play because Feleo was incapable of churning out real emotions. She personified "blandness". Yet here she is coaching Elmo and Julie Anne; teaching novices what she herself is incapable of doing!. Isn't this a matter of "the blind leading the blind"? Or just maybe I missed something: maybe this was actually an experimental flick or a thesis film. Goodness gracious!


What's staggering to note? This cinematic vomitus actually got a Grade B from the nincompoops of the Cinema Evaluations Board (CEB). Time and again, the people from CEB keep validating the running gag that it's a government agency filled with either idiots or opportunists. Cinema Evaluations Bobo'ard, anyone? Do you wonder why? This government arm is supposed to help create a standard for quality films yet we get to hear films like this - not to mention "Pak Pak My Dr. Kwak" - as an epitome of excellence.

It is then such a hilarious experience watching TV5's "Artista Academy". Whenever Mac Alejandre shows up on screen, he would insist that he requires more "depth" from his wards' performances, I get goosebumps listening to him speak. He talks as though he knows what he's doing, yet cursory assessment of his body of work reveals otherwise. How can anyone as artistically scanty as Alejandre even assume that he could coax depth from others when he himself is wanting? Maybe Alejandre can benefit by enrolling in some Scriptwriting Class? On second thought, mediocrity and poor taste are irremediable concerns so why bother?

Juliet tells Nyel: "We only have two-day screenings nationwide."

A party for the non-scholar. Talk about building up a character to your audience.  :)

Father and lola learn of her secret.

Idyllic setting makes a case for "beauty with no substance".

Excited to vomit, Beto couldn't contain herself.

Mother and son find out something.


Anonymous said...

hahaha! at last the long awaited review of just one summer! i didn't know mac alejandre also directed this! sana ginawa na lang nilang musical. sayang naman ang vocal talent ni julie ann kung di mo pinakanta.
am not a fan of elmo.
i guess this was more painful for you than those pink films because more money was spent on this so they have no excuse.
--Curious G.

Cathy Pena said...

Curious G:

Seriously? I know you told me about it. So you like Julie Anne then. :)

Oh well. Mac Alejandre's works frustrate me no end. :(

Anonymous said...

Oops sorry, i meant i didn't know mac also wrote it. Why did they get him when they have writers like michiko yamamoto and jun lana?
I like julie ann's voice but i did not watch this. Not until i could read a positive review. Well your review and its box office results saved me. Thanks!
-Curious G