My Big Love (Jade Castro, 2008) November 15, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Noypi.
Written by Michiko Yamamoto and Theodore Boborol
Directed by Jade Castro
Cast: Toni Gonzaga, Sam Milby, Kristine Hermosa
One can look at it like before and after pictures. Before—the part when Sam Milby loses his girl because of his obesity, and starts to depress himself. He loses his girl because he’s fat, plain and simple, no self-righteousness needed. He’s not stupid or poor; he’s just fat. The girl, who happens to be Kristine Hermosa—in her most useful role to date—dumps him on their first date. He meets Kristine’s trainer, Toni Gonzaga, who urges him to try her fitness program. They get close. She helps him on a diet, encourages him to stay healthy, and goes out with him in running exercises. She has to leave though, abroad, to help her family. And that’s when the After comes—he persists in training, manages to have a body to die for, and wins his girl back. Yes, the girl, Kristine—whose only purpose is to exist as an illusion, a meaningless fantasy, a cardboard representation of love—one has to bear seeing her a lot on the second half. Toni comes back, wishful, and they meet again. Looking at Sam’s hefty physique and pretty face, a reversal of insecurity happens, and that’s when My Big Love decides to be indistinct.
One can blame it easily for being a commercial film. But a commercial work, no matter where it comes from, is still a product of labored brainstorming and writing. A hint of effort, a suggestion of sensibility, an image of audience in mind, especially the fans of the love team, and a slight trace of winning the indie hearts—they are obviously there. Exaggeration is the key on the first part, that even seeing Sam tumble as he walks—really, is balance something he can’t get used to?—or the silly musical number in the grocery which turns out to be an effective ploy to let Sam, the actor, dance in the ending, it suspends disbelief. It is cute, it pulls off the humor, and it wills us to overlook it in exchange for entertainment. The transition is invisible; a minute or so and a crossfade are all it takes to show the obese turn into a macho figure of discipline, only that discipline owes more to our fixed expectations. If the film decides to show how he loses weight realistically, and still remains interesting, Star Cinema is certainly not behind it. On the other hand, seeing Kristine Hermosa being dumped is something to look forward to, and perhaps no other girl among these studio actors is more deserving to see as the-guy-chose-over-her than Toni. (Unfortunately, Sam does not leave her; she lets Sam run after Toni. With permission. Is Kristine really that beautiful?)
The second half is uninteresting because it loses the quirk. In simpler terms—because Sam is not anymore an interesting character. In broader terms—because when the dream guy becomes too unattainable, he becomes less and less interesting, more and more bland and unemotional, lifeless and too agreeable. And that’s when Toni has to break in. She makes us hold on to the story despite knowing what is ahead. She proves why Kristine is needless of characterization, because she is a character in life that doesn’t need character to stand on—or why Sam is more charming when he’s fat, because that’s when his Tagalog tongue is less noticeable than his body. Now that he’s hot and handsome one can’t help but be turned off when he speaks in the vernacular. Toni smoothes these edges and provides relief from the monotonous pacing and music. And we have to admit— we really fall for the cool and the street-smart, regardless of physical beauty. That beauty is only meant to be desired. Taking it is losing in some other ways.
On a side note, one can’t also help but notice that when the mainstream films the poor, it still looks un-poor. Toni’s family is said to be poor; her mother drives a pedicab for a living; her father, perhaps with the details of his afternoon sleep and reading a newspaper, is jobless; and her brother is part of a gang that steals side mirrors and car wheels. It devotes time to show that he is engaged in rapping—hip-hop music being the stuff of communities living in shanties, with their big shirts and tattoos. But what we see is a glossy representation of poorness. They may live in a poor community, but them being poor is relative—they are poor in comparison to Sam or Kristine’s status in life. We know Sam’s mother stays outside the country. They talk once in a while; she sends her regards to her son who lives alone. We don’t know if Sam has shared with her his dreams of owning a bakeshop and wanting to be its pastry chef. We don’t know if she has seen him when he lost a tremendous amount of weight. On the other hand, Kristine’s family owns the business where Sam works as a chef, and with the way she dresses and despises comfort food, she could only be reared by well-off parents. My Big Love makes no (dramatic) difference between the rich and the poor, like it doesn’t exist at all. In its understatement of poverty, it follows the mindset and logic of the well-to-do—the middleclass and the petite bourgeoisie—whereas the film’s target audience, ironically, is the much lower economic class.
To achieve that, it numbs the boundaries. It eliminates the details that will only complicate the love story. It revives the formula of starting cheerfully and ending just well, and losing the ambition. Unlike Jade Castro’s previous film, the details here serve the characters, not the story. Unlike Michiko Yamamoto’s previous stories, it could be set anywhere and the premise will still stand. Only there is more fun in My Big Love, much joy and lightheartedness, that when one tries not to acknowledge its deep-set humor on the basis of the barrage of independently produced films in recent years, it becomes a very delicate and dangerous blow on the part of the viewer. Not snobbery and tastefulness, not arrogance or elitism, but more than that—the inability to discern the environments that serve as backdrops of these local films. When one loses that, the judgment becomes null, and thus immaterial. And when one doesn’t appreciate the scene when Toni hugs Sam in the elevator after he screams at her, or when Toni scowls at him in the footbridge and says, “Nawala lang bilbil mo ‘kala mo kung sino ka na!!” the writer doesn’t care about convincingthe audience anymore.