Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In My Life (2009)



In My Life (Olivia Lamasan, 2009)

Lino Brocka's Insiang (1976), which has a lethal feud between a mother and her daughter as its centerpiece, surprisingly ends with the daughter, in an unusual display of tender affection, visiting her incarcerated mother in the women’s penitentiary. It’s a very uncharacteristic dénouement, one that does not make any sense within the film’s context given the outpouring of hatred that preceded the tearful reunion. However, it makes sense if seen in the context of a culture of expectant mothers and eternally repentant children. It is therefore unsurprising that almost every film that tackled relationships between mothers and their children, from Rory Quintos’ melodrama Anak (The Child, 2000) to Wenn Deramas’ joyously over-the-top comedy Ang Tanging Ina (The True Mother, 2003) and its countless and less effective repetitions like Ang Cute ng Ina Mo! (Your Mother is Cute!, 2007) and Ang Tanging Ina Niyong Lahat (Our True Mother, 2008), emphasizes the sacrifices mothers have done for their children and the corresponding debt of gratitude that is owed by these children to their mothers.

Vilma Santos has become the poster girl for these cinematic suffering mothers, having played the progressive mother of children from different fathers in Chito Roño’s Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa? (Lea’s Story, 1998), the maltreated maid from Hong Kong who returns to Manila to ungrateful children in Anak, and the indefatigable mother in Roño’s 2003 adaptation of Lualhati Bautista’s famous novel Dekada ’70, where a middle class family wades through the turbulent decade and evolves from convenient apathy to activism and awareness. In Olivia Lamasan’s In My Life, she plays Shirley Templo, an effective yet stubborn mother to openly gay Mark (Luis Manzano, Santos’ son in real life). Shirley Templo is the culmination of all the mothers that Santos has played: assured because she can pinpoint every little comfort and pleasure that she dutifully has given up for her children and because of that, feels entitled to her children’s undivided loyalty and attention. Thus, when Shirley decides to move to New York City with Mark after learning that her daughter (Dimples Romana, who does wonders in the little role she has; that scene where she laments of her dissolved dream of becoming a doctor is precious) has decided to migrate elsewhere, Noel (John Lloyd Cruz), Mark’s overly loyal boyfriend who is staying illegally in the United States, suddenly becomes the third wheel in Shirley’s belated attempt to reconnect with her son.

There is no denying that Santos is a terrific actress. Recently however, she has limited herself to roles that are quite unvaried, to the point of Santos becoming a predictable if not mechanical performer. Her Shirley Templo, while an always entertaining presence because of her amusing quirks (Santos has exquisite comedic timing) and the skill and experience that Santos gives her during the many emotional highlights in the film, feels more like a derivative of everything the actress has done in the last decade. Fortunately, Cruz, who has graduated from playing charming yet soulless boys next door in the many romantic comedies he starred in, gives formidable support to Santos. The methodical manner Cruz gives life to Noel (the extra split seconds that he has his mouth open after every word that is shouted with subtle inflection; the slight gestures that hint of the femininity underneath the masculine exterior) is complemented by the sensitivity and charisma that the actor naturally exudes. Manzano, although largely inconsistent, does quite well, even alongside more talented and more experienced actors like Santos and Cruz.

The narrative conceit of making the son a homosexual man who is deeply in love with an illegal immigrant emphasizes the extent of the humility the mother has to learn: that tolerance is different from acceptance, and that difference spells the snowballing aches that a son has to learn to accept to continue living. The screenplay by Raymond Lee and Senedy Que does not allow the homosexual relationship between Mark and Noel to overshadow Shirley's difficult struggle in accepting her self-appointed role as doting mother to an already independent son. Actually, the fact that the relationship is a homosexual one only enlarges Shirley's self-entitlement, considering that her opponent for her son's attention and affection is Noel, a man whose only stake in Mark's life is an emotional attachment that cannot be made legal or formal because of statutory constraints, and as a result, can easily be refuted as sham and manipulative, which Shirley, at several points in her stay with Mark, has raised up. It's a delight seeing Shirley viciously compete with Noel for Mark's attention, and how Noel, despite Shirley's overt cruelty, treats Shirley with the patience and adoration one usually reserves for his own mother. The often unpredictable dynamics of Shirley and Noel's relationship becomes the movie's heart, as enunciated heavily by Lamasan's efficient although sometimes charmless direction.

Filipinos, in general, are beholden to our mothers. Our bonds with our mothers outlast the most stringent of conflicts that notwithstanding damaging aches caused by strained relationships or unintentional distance, our collective identity is etched not by the experiences we gather independent of family, but by persistent reminders (whether they are lovely memories, traumatic experiences, physical traits that we unwillingly inherited) that we came from somewhere and from someone. As with everything, this unhindered maternal affiliation reflects in the movies we make and watch.In a cinematic culture of apologetic children and saintly mothers, In My Life, while still operating under a profit-oriented formula as espoused by Star Cinema's capitalist intentions, attempts to shatter cultural expectations by reversing roles, having the parent learn from her children and later on, apologize for her shortcomings and stubbornness. The attempt is of course, admirable. Had the attempt been armed with courage, with the story breaking the limits of what is allowed under the auspices of what the funding studio thinks is safe and profitable, then In My Life would have probably been a better movie and with a more pertinent title, too.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

"ang nanay kong bruha" could have been good title oggs. i can't blame star for always using song titles. they actually made a marketing study as to how audience reacts to film titles. their profit is much better if its derived from a song. vilma santos is an effective actress.

Anonymous said...

The interior scenes of the apartment were obviously shot in the Philippines.

A New York brownstone does not have those wooden floors. The gas range is La Germania, walang ganoon sa NY. The ref is the type sold in the Philippines but not in NY.

Apartment leases in NY include basic furniture like a ref and a built in type range. Yung ref, built in rin, hindi stand alone. Pangit ng production values.

Yung picnic na may hatak si Vilma na Coleman on wheels? Imposible, you can't lug that on the NY subway because of the stairs. Obviously Weng Deramas is not the kind of director who has attention to detail. Yung flower shop hindi flower shop sa NY yung interior obvious sa kind of flowers sold at sa flower arrangement.

Vilma's acting was hysterical. Probably because you have to shout in political speeches sometimes, lalo na kung walang mike.

Anonymous said...

It's a delight seeing Shirley viciously compete with Noel for Mark's attention, and how Noel, despite Shirley's overt cruelty, treats Shirley with the patience and adoration one usually reserves for his own mother.

- i didnt feel that they were competing for mark's attention because they both give in to her. if any, shirley was competing with mark's job sine he's always on his cell.

as for production values, i agree. pero hindi wenn deramas ang nag direct nito, olivia lamasan.

Erick Lozada said...

Oggs,

Congrats. Finalist pala blog mo sa Philippine Blog Awards.

Erick 08

SHELU89 said...

I love your review. It's well written. I hope I could write as good as you are.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Erick and Shelu89!

Anonymous said...

nice review.. i agree with everything you said especially on pointing out the inconsistency on luis manzano's character.

Anonymous said...

I share a common observation on Vilma Santos's acting. She can't seem to totally lose the Vilma Santos in her characterizations. She can be brilliant in moments but there's always the Vilma Santos acting we've seen oftentimes.

Ellan Mark Pailan said...

"The attempt is of course, admirable. Had the attempt been armed with courage, with the story breaking the limits of what is allowed under the auspices of what the funding studio thinks is safe and profitable, then In My Life would have probably been a better movie and with a more pertinent title, too."
- I agree. That's why I seldomly watch films from Star Cinema. I made an exception for this one because I thought that they wanted to veer away from their usual "tricks".
- As a whole, the film was average, I think. I hated the editing for one. The transition from one scene to the next was jarring at times. Some ideas were good but not really thought-provoking.
- But I agree that the acting was generally good.
- Congrats Oggs on this blog. I did not know that you were such an excellent film critic. Your reviews are also well-written. I guess, you learned a lot from law school. Hehe. ;)

Anonymous said...

there was one small detail in the film that, for me, spelled triumph for subtlety in scriptwriting. the day after the gaybar scene, john lloyd sat by the stairs outside their home, wearing an old, white espadrilles. the same pair of shoes would later be worn by luis in the scene by the lake with his mother.

for me, that spoke volumes about the extent of luis and john lloyd's relationship that no dialogue could ever achieve.

bOy_KaLaWaNg said...

nice review dude.....sana ako din makagawa ng ganyan....i hope magkaroon ako ng pagkakataon na mameet kayong mga idol kong bloggers...

Anonymous said...

i still like this film despite its flaws. great acting from its leads.

Anonymous said...

vilma gave another great portrayal in this movie and i beg to disagree about her being hysterical, her role here is nanay na bungangera which she gave justice to.

Anonymous said...

just wondering why is this film not yet listed in your index lists.

Anonymous said...

its a very different vilma in the movie, and honstly we haven't seen something new from her over the past few years so its very delightful to see a totally dynamic character from her this time one that is full of layers.