Thursday, April 3, 2014

Andoy Ranay's "Diary ng Panget" - Shaking Heads and Slovenly Writing

Orphan girl Eya Rodriguez (Nadine Lustre), a self proclaimed “panget” (unsightly), finds herself employed as the personal maid of affluent Cross Sandford (James Reid), the goodlooking but bratty student council president of Willford, the prestigious college where Eya is a scholar. In a place populated by privileged half breeds and well heeled guys who can afford to buy P250,000 friendship rings for their crushes, Eya is an oddball. Popular cliques don’t even hide their aversion towards our pimple-ridden protagonist who seems oblivious to everyone’s antipathy. After all, she only has to deal with her employer’s (Gabby Concepcion) capricious son to earn the monthly P25,000. What’s better, they don’t have to like each other. He loathes her (or does he) as much as she dislikes him – and Cross can’t even “fire” her. 

But life gets easier when popular girl Lory (Yassi Pressman) takes Eya as her new best friend. Hasn’t this anything to do with the fact that Lory’s been harboring feelings for Cross since they were in kindergarten? (He once stood up for her against bullies.)

Plot thickens when popular jock Chad (Andre Paras) starts stalking Eya. What’s happening here? When Cross facetiously declares to everyone on campus that Eya is actually his girl friend, life gets more complicated for our heroine who now has to parry the blows against jealous school mates. Cross, on the other hand, requires her presence more and more. What to do?

Director Andoy Ranay’s film adaptation of this best-selling Filipino romance novel follows this director’s penchant for glossy, upper-middle class macrocosm (“Sosy Problems”, “When the Love is Gone”). Unfortunately, this acumen does nothing but highlight Ranay’s mediocre directorial vision. The first third of the narrative could have benefited with a snappy, tongue-in-cheek cadence. Mostly though, every cinematic artifice fell flat, you couldn't help but place Cross and Eya's catfights as inferior versions of Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla’s “Got 2 Believe” characters. The comparison is inevitable. But we don't think less of James Reid and Nadine Lustre’s charm quotient.

Reid and Lustre give it their best. By the film's middle part, they breach through the tedium of mediocrity and you actually start enjoying their earnest banter. How can you not fall in love with Reid’s dreamy gaze? If you’re a living-and-breathing female species, you won’t be immune to Reid’s cinematic punch. Why Star Cinema eventually let go of Reid, who is otherworldly gorgeous (and could sing like a prince), is beyond me. Andre Paras, on the other hand, suffers from pallid characterization. He seems too gimpy for a sports jock, you'd understand why girls would look elsewhere despite Paras' good looks and tall frame. Yassi Pressman meanwhile underwhelms. AJ Muhlach steals some misplaced scenes but his presence is nothing but random and disposable.

The story, feebly told in seeming episodes, is riddled with loopholes. In fact, the movie can't seem to make up its mind if the school's name(Willford) has a single or double "L". The individual issues likewise feel unsympathetic and fractured at best. What father would refer to his son as “half halimaw” to a stranger, even in jest? If Cross is really an irresponsible guy as we are made to believe, how did he get elected as the school’s student council president? Heck, he even moonlights as a model for Bench. In the scheme of things, jocks can be mean, but student council presidents are at least approachable and responsible. Cross is stand offish. Moreover, how can an employed maid go “fencing” with her employer? Why were her prickly acne conglobata appearing and disappearing from one scene to the next? Acnes the size of Neptune don't disappear overnight, not even with the world's most powerful concealers.

Andre Paras is Chad. Yassi Pressman is Lory (aka Lorraine Keet).
My main problem is the slovenly writing and the divergent narrative trajectory that eventually had me tsk-tsk’ing and shaking my head. Check out the masquerade ball. Wasn't that the most opprobriously choreographed musical number ever to have graced the silver screen in a long time? If you needed groovesome traction to underline youthful vibe or suspenseful foreboding, you’re better off finding that in TV5 talent Shalala’s ridiculously titled launching movie “Echoserang Frog” (also showing this week) than here. Why is Andoy Ranay mimicking Mac Alejandre’s humdrum film making skill? Hasn't years of theatre practice taught him narrative urgency or plotful congruity? The question is of course rhetorical because the answer is crystal.

When Eya finally shares her masquerade dance with the be-masked Cross, how can she not recognize him? It was baffling. She lived and worked closely (intimately, even) with Cross that she’d be half a nitwit not to recognize his physical form, smell, much less his voice! Yeah, yeah, he had colds - and you can tell that to the marines! Or was she really daft? And how can one desecrate Cinderella’s “lost shoe” chapter with a rather shoddy and absolutely egregious version? Did Eya suddenly turn into a magical teen queen that a dozen would show up to declare their love for her? Who owned that darn tattered, smelly-looking shoe? On their way to telling a story, someone got caught between vertigo and a daydream. It was embarrassing; it made me blush. 

James Reid

Nadine Lustre 

AJ Muhlach plays Ian, Cross' best friend and Eya's misplaced, err... fairy godfather.


Chels said...

The movie was based on a wattpad novel and now a published book. Some of the loopholes you mentioned in here are explained in the book. You will appreciate the movie more if you had read the book. Pero oo nga, marami talaga ngang loopholes din talaga sa movie na di nadetect. Sa part2 siguro mas maingat na sila.

Obviously, it's a cliche story (the author admits it), but it is a movie that one wants to watch to lightens one's mood. Tawa lang ba at kilig factor.

I love that the movie casted new faces. For James Reid, we may remember him as a PBB winner but he never had a break after his win. Nakakasawa na rin kasi yung mga sikat na lang lagi yung nakakacast sa mga movies.

Cathy Pena said...

Hi Chels,

I agree with you that it would probably be interesting to read the “book” from which the movie was based. But as a required companion piece when watching and criticizing the movie? Nah.

A novel and a movie are different medium. Where criticism is concerned, they have disciplines too far removed from each other.

In fact, the story teller of a written novel is, more often than not, a different voice when the cinematic narrative gets told. Movies, whether based on a novel or not, should be taken as a "complete" and stand-alone story.

Film criticism should be based solely on what is being told on screen, not on items and explanations that aren't there. If you say that the loopholes are explained in, say the succeeding sequels of the book, then these items should have been included in the movie.

This is why there is such a thing as “cinematic license”; the film maker enjoys carte blanche, an authority that gives him the right to fix what’s broken, fill up what’s empty, and make the story whole. After all, even romantic comedies should NOT be excluded from “common sense”. Any story, whether told in a novel or a film, whether horror, fantasy, action, sci-fi or love story, should make sense, be credible and must possess a sense of truth.

I am actually familiar with “Panget’s” singular achievement in Wattpad (more than 12 million reads is nothing to scoff at), as well as its eventual publication, then film adaptation. I have no doubt in mind of its entertainment value; that it’s credibly, wittily written. Unfortunately, it didn't translate well into film language. That's not the author's (Denny?) fault, clearly. :)