Narinig Mo Na Ba Ang L8est? (Jose Javier Reyes, 2001)
English Title: Have You Heard of the Latest?
A day spent watching a cable channel specializing on Filipino movies, an unintended trait developed by hectic work schedules and impending deadlines, would arouse the most curious of observations about Filipino mainstream movies that tackle the middle class: that majority of the middle class characters who are gainfully employed work for the advertising industry. It's really unsurprising. Both mainstream cinema and the advertising industry share most of its talents, from director, writer, cinematographer, down to the actors and actresses. The reason for churning out characters who work under the same high-stress, presumably also high-creativity environment could be out of the fear or lack of confidence to tackle something distinctly foreign from what they already know (let's say the banking or legal industry), or the lack of funding or care for research to make sure the little details are accurate, or quite possibly just sheer laziness, that leads most directors and writers to turn their characters into ad people, at least in only a nominal sense.
Writer-director Jose Javier Reyes' Narinig Mo Na Ba Ang L8est? (Have You Heard of the Latest?), like majority of all mainstream movies about middle class people that were made before it, have characters who are ad people. To Reyes' credit, the jobs of his characters aren't only nominal as they are given a fully functioning premise and setting, well-researched although caricatured to the point of being comparable to a serialized television sitcom. The milieu is complete with the distasteful office politics, the unintentional overproduction of pheromones leading to harmless crushes and indecent proposals, and last but not the least, the incessant rumormongering, which seems to be Reyes' unique thrust in this rather predictable romantic comedy. The office gossiping is made even more vicious by the proliferation of cellular phones, which makes those juicy half-truths so easy to report by the utilization of the practical SMS lingo and that conclusive click of the send button.
The would-be victims of the office rumor mill are Popoy (Aga Muhlach) and Gina (Joyce Jimenez). Popoy is the ad agency's writer, rumored to be gay for being so clean, orderly, miserly and handsome yet without any girlfriend or any reported recent date, at least. Gina is the new hire, a production artist who is reported to be an easy lay as she's sporting what possibly are the hugest breasts in the office (which becomes the topic of one of the film's funniest dialogues, when she insists that her brain is bigger than her boobs and Popoy replies with a surprised look and a retort stating how humongous her brain would be) and is interestingly frank about her sexual exploits with her boyfriend. The two are forced to work together for a project, predictably developing a friendship, then a romantic relationship based on the similarities of each other's predicaments and of course, respect. The love story, to be kind, is a bit forced and without the clever pieces of dialogue that Reyes whips up for his onscreen lovers, would have been utterly bland, unpersuading, and disgracefully pointless. Given the milieu that Reyes pits his romance against, the high levels of stress and intrigue an office ordinarily includes, you would've expected that the film end in a more mature tone but instead Reyes follows the textbook instructions of how romantic comedies should conclude: with an irrational change of heart and a kiss.
It really is a pity since Reyes convincingly builds his milieu with colorful characters who are sadly more interesting than the two leads, and recreated funny anecdotes of horrifying ad experiences, including a shoot of a shampoo commercial wherein the director just surrenders to the demands of his insatiable client, a shoot involving an uncooperative brat, and a review of commercial model applicants with the ad people muttering with ungraceful disdain the physical defects of the applicants. Among these colorful ad people are Miren (a delightfully histrionic Tessie Tomas), the over-caffeinated boss, Alvin (Mandy Ochoa), the sexual predator slash second-in-command, Dennis (an amusing Gabe Mercado), Popoy's sidekick who thinks there's a sexual creature hidden underneath his short and plump frame, and Nestor (Ogie Diaz), the perpetually annoyed proprietor of the outdoor canteen where the office people eat their lunch, among other weirdos. Reyes was able to manufacture a highly entertaining, highly watchable ecosystem within the confines of the drab interiors of the ad office, where the interest on the lives of other people seems believable since almost all of the personalities thriving therein seem to be hiding shady back stories worth digging for.
In summary, Narinig Mo Na Ba Ang L8est is passable entertainment, exactly what you'd expect from Reyes who is best known for writing stories about the mundane concerns of the middle class. The film is technically polished considering that it had full studio backing but on the downside, it's quite visually flat. It's meandering and safe, if not deprived of the possibilities of being something more, something that could have transcended beyond the whims of this Filipino bourgeoisie.