Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mae Czarina Cruz's "Bride for Rent" - Hits and Misses

A grandson plots to deceive his grandmother by pretending that he’s married. But the grandmother, aware of his machination, hatches a scheme to teach his cunning grandson a lesson by marrying him off to the former’s accomplice. Meanwhile the third-party accomplice is actually a saint who sacrifices her puny self to provide for a family of five able-bodied souls. But she wouldn't be so poor if fate lends a hand and she suddenly finds love in the midst of all this ruckus, would she?

Would that suffice to fabricate a story that would propel a blockbuster romantic comedy? Fact: Mae Czarina Cruz’sBride for Rent” is 2014’s first official blockbuster with humongous crowds turning in cineplexes as early as the first screening. 

Let’s backtrack a bit. Rocco (Xian Lim) was supposed to cash in on his multimillion-peso trust fund when he turned 25. But there was a caveat to this; that he should be married before he gets the first P10 million, then P70 million if he lasted this number of weeks – and so on.

Unfortunately, Rocco doesn't have a girl friend who is willing to marry him. Moreover, his ad agency is in urgent need of cash (which he earlier splurged while gambling) or he loses a vital account that would embarrass him to his estranged father (Tirso Cruz III). So he hires aspiring actress Rocky (Kim Chiu) to be his bride. Meanwhile, the plucky girl just wants a roof on her family’s head. She agrees to the odd arrangement of marrying this stranger to save her family from being homeless. The pretense would have them living together in a conjugal home for a specific time before they could eventually call the marriage off, file for annulment, then live their lives with oodles of cash as they ride into the sunset.

But as predictable as Kris Aquino’s self-indulgences, life isn't a walk in the park, and the unlikely couple find themselves unexpectedly falling for each other. Should they admit their feelings and offer conciliatory confessions? Should Rocco re-propose and re-affirm his new found affection to the indubitable Rocky? Should the latter declare her love to the piano-playing Lothario despite her double-whammy deception? What to do?

As romcom goes, “Bride for Rent” resorts to a pother of sitcom gags that surprisingly work due to the burgeoning comic ability of Kim Chiu who’s experiencing a renaissance of sorts where her performing aptitude is concerned. She has found a persuasive and confident voice in her comic cadence. A few lines still fall flat, but Chiu is mostly resolute. The result is nothing to scoff at. Her spitfire Rockelita dela Cruz suddenly becomes a cinematic heroine worth remembering. She has several moments of impeccable precision, like when she starts enumerating her house rules, then quips with a nonchalant “Please refer to rule number 1, which you just agreed.”  How about her hooky, “Isn't it amazing? Isn't it surprising? Isn't it?” Or when Rocco suddenly catches her buck naked while showering, then she moans, “I feel so molested”. Or when she daydreams of kissing Rocco at the kitchen. Or during her repeat audition when she’d say, “Di naman ako na advice na Q&A pala to.” There’s no denying that Miss Chiu is basking on a new thespic sun, and we’re so glad for her.

What’s an adorable heroine without her equally dishy paramour? Xian Lim complements Chiu’s comic calisthenics with his earnest portrayal of the happy-go-lucky, albeit opportunistic dream boy who just wants to do better than the father he resents. Lim is probably aware of his physical charm and he makes good use of this (the kitchen daydream scene). When Rocky tries to remove his shorts, he fetchingly protests, “Hala-la-la-la-la”. Awww. Chiu and Lim have found the perfect chemistry in celluloid heaven. We just wish they’d stop Lim from singing too much on screen because, while he maybe a fantastic musician, his vocal chops aren't so much to crow about. And serenading a girl with a dissonant version of “Til I Met You” leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

While I admit to finding pleasure in the spirited performances of Kim Chiu, Xian Lim, Pilita Corales and Empoy Marquez, the story arc and details leave much to be desired. This is a romcom fueled by the imposturous ministrations of its characters. The grandson is deceitful. The grandmother is shifty. Rocky isn't the innocent by-stander either because she came into the picture aware of the schemes of both. Are we supposed to empathize with these grafters? Then there’s the lazy Dela Cruz clan. With 3 able-bodied brothers and a physically capable father (Dennis Padilla), why is scrawny Rocky working so hard while her four male kapamilyas are sitting on their arses, feeling sorry for themselves? This is one free-loading, indolent family I'd rather do without. They all deserve to be taken to Cedric Lee’s condo unit, no doubt. Maybe Mr. Lee can knock some sense into them as much as he’s capable of disarranging Vhong Navarro’s facial and skeletal - and allegedly even genital anatomy.

What lucid lola would push her apo to a spurious marriage? Even if this were “to teach him a lesson… so he learns to value what he has”, isn't she aware that sometimes no amount of money can guarantee a successful annulment case? Aren't old folks supposed to uphold marriage as a "sacred sacrament”? Yet she plays with this covenant, making God an accomplice to her lesson-teaching scheme. That is some grandmother.

Several other points are worth noting. The house given as a gift by Pilita was posh and huge, yet Xian had to coin toss for him to get a chance to stay on their matrimonial bed. Otherwise, it’s the couch for him. Weren’t there other rooms in this gargantuan two-story house? Poor, poor Xian.

The biggest glitch here is the restaurant scene. When Rocco had to re-propose, wasn't that Rocky’s chance to come clean and accept his real proposal, instead of unnecessarily admitting her part of the devious plot? After all, she’s admitted to Lala that she’s falling for him, and Lala seems to genuinely like her. They had to rock the boat to maneuver tension into the convoluted story. The big revelation (drum roll please!) was that their marriage was a sham. Who didn't know that? Rocco knew. Rocky knew. Lala knew. Now, even Rocco’s father knows. Such happy coincidences indeed. The succeeding scenes were too farcical to swallow. Rocco turns his ire to his crowd and declares, “This doesn't give you the right to play with my feeling.” This coming from someone who jumpstarted this whole put-up job? I had to scratch my head.  

The film succeeds to tickle some fancy. But if Mae Cruz wants to be taken seriously, she has to learn how to tighten her narrative and seriously sit on her story line instead of resorting to the moth-eaten romcom formula that Star Cinema is feeding her. For now, she has to thank her lucky stars for Kim Chiu and Xian Lim’s refreshing performances. That may not be enough next time.

Xian Lim and Kim Chiu: The hit-making team.

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