Monday, January 28, 2013

Joel Lamangan's Menor de Edad - A Discordant Tragedy

At 15, Jenica (Meg Imperial) is a pallet of quandaries. She doesn’t do well in school where she doesn't have friends. Her boyfriend Jimboy (Arvic Rivero) is seeing another girl after she gets cold feet and turns away from a sexual dalliance. On the home front, Jen is constantly embarrassed by her mother Edna’s (Ara Mina) relationship with Jaggz (Jaycee Parker), a lesbian security guard, who lives with them. Bemo (Jim Pebanco), a bothersome neighbor, dogs her around while street thugs (Mico Aytona, plague her with innuendos. Her anxieties push her way into a hiphopping girl gang called Sosy who empower themselves with a lot of attitude, vandalizing innocent civilians at every turn.  Ariel Basco (Wendell Ramos), Jen’s Pilipino teacher, provides succor in her miserable existence.

Meanwhile, Ariel is his school’s Most Outstanding Teacher. Students flock to him and his fellow teachers (Jef Gaitan) are drawn to his benevolent demeanor; this despite being relatively new in the institution. He even offers free tutorial sessions with students who need help – like Jenica! But Ariel skirts from a tenebrous past. In a previous school where he taught, he barely got off a sexual harassment case filed by a student. What’s worse, Ariel couldn't shake off his penchant for gambling. In fact, their household finances are a shamble, what with his wife Layda’s (Almira Muhlach) pregnancy and “illness”.

One day, Jen comes home distraught, claiming she was molested by her favorite teacher, Mr. Basco. Is Ariel’s past finally catching up with him?

Joel Lamangan’s “Menor de Edad” reeks with a heavy handed exposition and an exasperatingly obstreperous plotting. Like most of Lamangan’s ouvre, social ilks are brandished without heed for narrative restraint. What transpires is a story that feels inordinately overdone, you end up throwing away any form of empathy that the film builds early on. How do you relate to a miserable girl who rebuffs the sexual advances of a boy he loves, yet she throws herself to her sympathetic teacher? Then she accuses and takes to court the only soul who’s ever given attention and understanding?

Moreover, why would you commiserate with an individual like Ariel who throws away his salary to chance? He navigates the dark alleys of his neighborhood as though he isn't a respected high school teacher, comes home late to a sleeping wife, reports to class wrapped with tattoos and bruises? So much for building a character, right? While Wendell Ramos isn't a lamentable actor, his performance is as confused as his dubiously written character.

Jenica and boyfriend Jimboy
Meg Imperial, on the other hand, coasts on incongruous direction.  She never quite got the grasp of the material though she wasn’t awkward in it. The culprit could be the dated writing of Raquel Villavicencio whose treatment of her protagonist is that of an ungrateful daughter. You see, Jenica’s mother Edna was not the nagging kind; Jen was neither physically abused, and her lesbian “stepparent” seemed to care for her. Other than cloaked in the mediocrity of poverty, why all the worthless angst of a seemingly lost teener? She’s not the only one who hasn’t come to know of her biological father who, as events unraveled, was the sniveling, whimpering, spine-tingling, and more importantly, stalking neighbor Bemo, played by Jim Pebanco. Like most of his previous performances, Pebanco disgracefully depicts his character with stagey flourish. In all of Pebanco’s years in the business (he was in Bernal’s “Himala”, for crying out loud), he is yet to learn how to relax his thespic muscle (Cinemalaya Best Supporting Actor trophy not withstanding). Heavens help DJ Durano (wink wink) for we see a pattern in their situation!

The nail in the coffin for this messy tripe is a quasi-journalist named Nancy Molina, played by Chynna Ortaleza. Molina editorializes her report when they should be delivered objectively, making her segments contentious at best. Or do we have to lecture about journalism? She gropes for words, a dastardly performance for one whose supposed to be a veteran tele-journalist; kinda like a Ricky Lo without his netherworld accent. Take note that in more than three of Molina’s episodes, she only covers a single set of subjects, a charmless gang of publicity hungry girls called Sosy. Metro Manila, with its population of 12 million, is bereft of more interesting subjects that a journalist would linger on a single group of personality for one whole month? Go figure. Ortaleza desperately ought to practice her reportorial spiels to be decently believable.

In one scene, Reporter Molina sees Jenica with the Sosy Gang. “Bago siya?" She asked, yet two interviews ago, Jenica was already seen with the group. How can one journalist not notice this? They’re supposed to be a very observant lot! Or just maybe she probably suffers from Attention-Deficit Disorder? At any rate, this doesn't make her a competent media practitioner, does it? From out of the baffling blue, Molina quipped, “Iba na s’ya ano? Astig na!” Huh? Didn't she just say Jen was a newbie? Ano ba talaga, ate? Then like ray of sunshine, a bulb flickers and she suddenly associates Jen with the case of the revered high school teacher who allegedly sexually assaulted his student. How convenient.

Jaycee Parker & Chynna Ortaleza
There are more bewildering strains in this flick. Here’s a girl who got gang raped by her neighbors. What do we expect from her? Stay at home and recuperate from her genital abrasions and crushed self worth, right? She’s instead seen practicing her karate chops with the rest of the girls who looked like they haven’t seen the bathroom in, say, five-hundred-twenty-five-thousand-six-hundred minutes. A message of self empowerment? Go go go, feminists!

During the court proceedings, no one remembered that a medical report (i.e. an internal examination) of the victim is parcel to trying a rape case.

But – did you know that, if you were to follow Reporter Molina’s story, these fierce girls peddle their flesh for cash? What then do we have here? Tough teenage street urchins who immerse in gang wars – and prostitution? Huh? If you've never used “incoherence” and “incongruence” in a sentence before, this is the golden moment for that. Otherwise, you might as well go home, plant camote, grow letsugas in your backyard, braid your labandera’s hair, decapitate a spider; grow bed bugs in your lolo's bed, anything but watch this horrifying tripe. Sanity alert!

Meg Imperial plays Jenica. She'd rather take the only person who has shown her respect, mercy and understanding to prison than get the bedeviled thugs who actually raped her. Now, children, let's do this in unison: "Why?"
Wendell Ramos plays award-winning teacher Ariel Basco. This exemplary person also gambles until he's blue. Err I mean "red"?.  ;->

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