Emotional Weather Report, today in the Philippine Star.
Notting Hill montage from Distractions of Lola.
Every year we do a round-up of the Philippine movie industry and for the last four years it’s been the same story. The same movie, the same director, and the same actor.
The movie is Notting Hill. You choke on your coffee: “That’s not a Filipino movie.” No, it is a British-made romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant that made a gazillion dollars in 1999. It has also become the template for the box-office blockbuster rom-coms churned out by the leading Filipino movie studio of the last decade, Star Cinema.
Look at the formula. Good-looking, rather befuddled Boy meets pretty, strong-willed independent Girl. There is an immediate attraction-repulsion but the repulsion quickly vanishes, to the detriment of the plot. Egged on by their wacky and endearing friends who live only to comment on the protagonists’ romance, Boy and Girl move towards couplehood. (At least in the Notting Hill-Four Weddings school the friends/supporting characters are allowed to have characters.)
Boy may pursue Girl, but Girl really takes the lead. Someone makes a proposal, it is accepted, and they expect to live happily ever after. . .but wait! A crisis arises that threatens to tear them apart. As crises go it is inconsequential and easily resolved, but the protagonists and their one-note friend chorus go into High Drama Mode. They treat the silly non-crisis as if global warming had escalated insanely and the homeless polar bears will eat us tomorrow. They break up.
Almost the second Boy and Girl break up the universe starts conspiring to throw them back together. The friend chorus watches the protagonists mope around, and make clear through their facial expressions or actual statements that the only thing that can re-freeze the polar ice caps is for Boy and Girl to get back together.
Initial attempts at reconciliation are half-heartedly rebuffed; once you switch to High Drama Mode you can’t switch it off without giving yourself vertigo. Finally Boy realizes that he has been, in the words of the Hugh Grant character, “a daft prick”, and makes a sensational last-ditch attempt to get Girl back.
In the original of this species, Hugh Grant gatecrashes the press conference, gets hold of the microphone, and declares his passion (in that trademark diffident manner) to Julia Roberts and, incidentally, a hall full of reporters. In the Pinoy popcorn version (though Filipino moviegoers also eat Chickenjoy at the cinema, and I have the urge to run out and get Chickenjoy myself) Boy declares his passion for Girl in the most public venue possible, such as a crowded MRT station or Luneta.
Sometimes it is a spontaneous occurrence, sometimes he has to hire a flatbed truck and musicians. Girl is blown away by his willingness to embarrass himself in front of total strangers, and falls into his arms. And those strangers who have never seen them before and have absolutely no idea what’s going on say “Awwww” and applaud the blissful couple. Who then fall onto the train tracks and get squished in a surprise hommage to Anna Karenina. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Yes that took too long, we were entertaining ourselves. (Try writing the same annual report over and over again.)
The director is Cathy Garcia Molina, who has helmed the top-grossing Filipino movie of the year for the last four years. In 2010 she directed the number one movie My Amnesia Girl, and the number two movie Miss You Like Crazy. Garcia Molina has a light touch, which we appreciate because traditional Pinoy movies tend to hammer away at the audience screaming, “Did you get that? Did you get that? Should we repeat it?” She is a deft director of comedies, and her products are unarguably entertaining. This director knows what the viewers want, and what they want is “kilig”.
“Kilig” is the thrill the audience gets when Boy and Girl express their feelings for each other. They may do this intentionally, for instance by reciting a line like “You had me at my best and she had me at my worst” (famous quote from a Cathy Garcia Molina movie). Or they may do it unwittingly, such as when they are so overcome by the sight of the beloved that they step into an elevator shaft. (Incidentally there is no English word for “kilig”; the nearest equivalent is the French “frisson”.)
The actor is, of course, John Lloyd Cruz. He is the star of the aforementioned top two of 2010, and of the number one movie of 2009, 2008, and 2007. In fact we could’ve saved ourselves the trouble of doing a yearly round-up and just summed up the local movie industry thus: John Lloyd Cruz, John Lloyd Cruz, John Lloyd Cruz.
Apart from movies John Lloyd Cruz appears in many ads and television programs, courting overexposure, yet the audience does not tire of him. He comes across not as a movie star but as a real person: cute, but not cloying. Although he has been consigned to the hell of Notting Hill remakes (Notting Hell?) and has not had a chance to show his range, we see glimmers of brilliance. Note his subtle-funny-poignant turn as the gay boyfriend in In My Life.
Our friend, a recent convert to fandom, puts it thus: John Lloyd Cruz is brilliant because he can utter the most bloodcurdling bogus line in the most hackneyed situation to the most insipid girl, and you believe him. In the phoniest production he will be the one true thing. That’s why John Lloyd Cruz is a star.
But what about the indies, you ask? What’s an annual industry round-up that does not mention the Filipino indies reaping awards at international film festivals? That is another formula altogether, and the subject of another report.