Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: A Mother's Story

Emily wanted to watch "A Mother's Story", and since she's been kind enough to go along with my sometimes odd choices, I agreed. From the title alone you already know it's going to be a maudlin-fest, but what the hey, Pokwang is an intriguing character, and I was impressed by her dramatic turn in 100 Days to Heaven. (To see Xyriel Manabat in action again was an added bonus.)

So did A Mother's Story redeem my views of mainstream Philippine cinema? In a word: no. It wasn't nearly as bad as some of the stinkers I've had to go through (Bong Revilla, I'm looking at you), but there were still plenty of cringe-worthy moments, and midway through the film, I found myself zoning out.

The main weakness of the film is the script. The story itself is paper thin: Medy (Pokwang) becomes an illegal alien in the United States in order to support her family. She works as a housekeeper but is a virtual prisoner of the couple she works for. She endures nonetheless because she has to send money home. She eventually escapes and returns home seven years later, but finds her son resentful and her husband with another woman. Paint by the numbers, one-two-three. Hijinks ensue.

The first half was bearable, and it was actually fun to see Medy cope with life in the States. That sequence is framed in Medy's conversation with a co-passenger (the excellent Jaime Fabregas). But just as she gets to the part explaining her travails, the plane lands and she leaves the co-passenger (and us) hanging.

The second half feels like a different movie altogether. The problem with the story is that the director / scriptwriter / producer went through great lengths to find a way to keep Medy in States for seven years, and to keep her there in the most dramatic way possible. We end up then with a caricature of the evil American masters which, given the structure of the movie, is never given much depth. And, of course, celebrity immigration lawyer Michael Garfinkel steps in to save the day.

Yes, you can groan now.

What redeems the movie somewhat is Pokwang's spot-on comedic timing, which leads to the high points of the movie. Dramatic scenes take mildly funny (but not corny) turns without necessarily detracting from the gravity of the moment. I think that this film overall could have turned out much better if it toned down the drama-meter somewhat and gave those moments more chances to shine; the long scenes of exposition are, frankly, a drag. As it is, it feels like an extended episode of Maalala Mo Kaya.

But hey, that's mainstream Filipino movies for you.