A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Wedding
A Review of Chris Martinez's Here Comes the Bride
by Francis Joseph A. Cruz
All it took was a solar eclipse and five-car collision atop the Magnetic Hill for the souls of five individuals --- the virginal bride-to-be (Angelica Panganiban), her histrionically litigious godmother (Eugene Domingo), her ringbearer’s destitute nanny (Tuesday Vargas), her husband-to-be’s amorous grandfather (Jaime Fabregas), and her gay beautician (John Lapuz) --- to switch bodies. With the bride-to-be’s soul transferring to the godmother’s body; the godmother’s soul transferring to the nanny’s body; the nanny’s soul transferring to the grandfather’s body; the grandfather’s soul transferring to the beautician’s body; and the beautician’s soul transferring to the bride-to-be’s body, the dream beach wedding turns into a hilarious riot, where long-dormant passions are awakened, sexual fantasies are fulfilled, economic alleviation is achieved, and a chance at love is obtained.
Let us get it out of the way. Chris Martinez’s Here Comes the Bride is top-notch entertainment. Martinez was able to come up with everything most recent Filipino mainstream comedies lack: that no-nonsense singular objective of making people laugh. From the getgo to the post-credit extra scene, the film never stopped to be overtly pedantic or moralistic, a problem that most Filipino comedies have since there always seems to be this need to use cinema as replacement for Sunday school. For example, Wenn Deramas’ Ang Tanging Ina (The True Mother, 2003), and its sequel and many offshoots, are always derailed by its insistence on teaching a lesson; even Joyce Bernal’s Kimmy Dora (2009), also written by Martinez, is stalled by its apologetic dénouement that went too long and too serious. Never mind the forced logic to explain the illogic, the negligible business about solar eclipses and souls, the history and science behind the soul-swap, as authoritatively explained by television trivia-master Kim Atienza. Here Comes the Bride is deliriously funny nonsense all the way and it thankfully works.
The film’s success is not entirely surprising. After all, Martinez is arguably one of the Philippines’ better screenwriters. His screenplays, from Bridal Shower (Jeffrey Jeturian, 2004), about three friends in search of love, to Caregiver (Chito Roño, 2008), about a mother who follows her husband to London in the hopes of earning enough to live comfortably, reflect his ability to articulate something as minute as the language to something as pertinent as the needs of the rapidly-changing Filipino society for mainstream appeal. 100 (2008), his directorial debut about a woman who is dying from cancer, is salvaged from being a run-of-the-mill melodrama by an abundance of relevant humor. Martinez understands the Filipino soul, that the very best way to tackle something as devastating as death is to treat it with levity, to make it familiar and therefore personal. That said, Martinez may very well be the most current of all actively working screenwriters, actively pursuing entertainment without being dumbed down by the demands of commercial accessibility.
Despite its astounding technical polish, Here Comes the Bride is fundamentally closer to Joey Gosiengfiao’s redeemed Temptation Island (1981), where a bunch of beauty queens and the men surrounding them are stranded in a deserted island, than the mechanically churned comedies Star Cinema has been producing the past recent years. Underneath the caricatures that Martinez connected by the conceit of the convenient soul-swap, underneath the blatant inanity of its carefully conceived proceedings, is a well-pronounced understanding that life, as it is, is unfair, that there are those who are born poor, those who live loveless, and those who inevitably grow old and inutile. In a twist of fate, cruel only to the bride-to-be who suddenly gets a first-hand experience of the inequity of living after a lifetime of being sheltered and protected, inabilities and deficiencies are cured, emphasizing in what essentially is a film created for no other reason than to be an escapist fantasy that the key to a happy life is as unrealistic and as incredible as swapping souls via rare natural phenomena.
Like Temptation Island whose gay pageant director becomes the unwilling sacrificial lamb simply because he presumably has the least to lose among the other loved and loving survivors, the most fully realized character in Here Comes the Bride is the love-starved gay beautician whose fortune of being transported to the body of the beautiful and sexy bride-to-be is the most dramatic out of the five. As expected, it is mostly played for laughs and Panganiban does a brilliant job in emulating the fabulous larger-than-life gestures of Lapuz. After all, the very idea of a gay man suddenly and surprisingly getting everything he ever wanted, from the body parts he can only have in his wildest dreams to the straight men who he can only love and lust for from a safe distance, is in itself a hoot. The hilarity of the absurd situation, at that scene where the bride-to-be in the body of her godmother insists that the gay beautician return her body, unravels into a well-pronounced statement of gay angst and sentiment as he emotionally shouts “Hindi ninyo maiintindihan dahil hindi kayo bakla! (You will never understand because you are not gay!). At that moment, the film, notwithstanding the fact that it never stopped being funny, reflected a current fundamental truth, something that not even a mainstream film as self-promotedly queer as Olivia Lamasan’s In My Life (2009) can have the guts to state as plainly and matter-of-factly as that.
The gay man becomes a girl. The loveless godmother feels how it is to be loved. The amorous yet incapacitated grandfather relives the passion and the romance of his distant youth. The poor nanny turns into a millionaire. The innocent bride-to-be wallows in the realities of life’s misfortune. Martinez fills the screen with realized desires at the expense of the bride-to-be, emphasizing the frailty of the human soul in the face of happiness. In the midst of the film’s invaluable wit and humor that frequently pumps in rhythm with the Latin beats of the apt lively music score, the film’s characters, ideally uncomplicated and stereotypical, are allowed to live their desires realized, concretizing in easy-to-understand cinematic terms the pleasures of escape, of living a fantasy even if it is only momentarily. I am very happy to say that Here Comes the Bride is as current and relevant as it is entertaining and hysterical.
(Cross-published on Twitch. Re-published in Philippine Free Press, 22 May 2010)