My Pa makes the silliest comments when watching movies. This time, he says: nagagaya na tayo sa America.
Uh… for a long time running now, Pa. For better or for worse.
Unofficially Yours (directed by Cathy Garcia Molina) begins with Mackie (John Lloyd Cruz, In My Life) and Ces (Angel Locsin, In the Name of Love) banging each other after a short verbal exchange regarding sabaw and laman. Immediately afterwards the two part on their own separate ways, only to be brought together inside the Manila Bulletin office. He is a former dentist and an aspiring journalist; she is his senior and mentor. And, in the evenings, they are engaged in one-night stands.
The movie is many things: a comedy, a writer’s story, a bit of a social commentary. It’s funny, somewhat witty, and even a little bit sexy. But to wit, Unofficially Yours is ultimately about how a casual setup between a man and a woman becomes that dreaded thing that is love. And, as my Pa’s comment hint, such a story is not yet that familiar this side of the Pacific.
Unfamiliar, but not unheard of. While watching the movie a couple of movies and short stories popped into my head–some less related to the matter than others. Among them were Love and Other Drugs (Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway) and Friends With Benefits (Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis), which, I must admit, I can tackle only in the most superficial level. Local fiction also came into mind: namely, “Vinyl Strangers” and “Into Ashes All My Lust,” by Michelle Tan and Exie Abola, respectively. The common denominator? Must be sex minus all those wishy-washy namby-pamby feelings that drive one to crumpling down beside the oven. Or is it?
Unofficially Yours may divided into two parts. The first is all about Ces and Makie thrashing all about the office, the car, and the apartment. We learn that Mackie’s just recently been through a string of relationships and is resolved to make of himself a new man; supporting a lovestruck single mother and a jobless brother, Ces doesn’t want love to get in the way of her career. Words fly past headset-covered ears, roommates stay still in spite of loud bangs and groans, and Mackie’s offer of post-sex coffee, tea, juice, cold water, and warm water are rejected in this half of the movie. Pardon my lack of exposure, but bear with me when I claim that this part seems almost out of the pages of Hollywood, and that I say not as a bad thing. The casual script, coupled with John Lloyd and Angel’s good acting, lends the movie a certain charm that is not of love, but of fun and smart-aleck retorts.
But the movie being a romance after all, the second part progresses with Mackie exhibiting what seems to be more of a needy nature. Despite his promises that he would go the extra mile for Ces, who he finds himself more enamored with, Mackie begins to show something like a puppy dog’s behavior by always asking her to go here and there, at one point almost forcing her to go into a family lunch when she has expressly stated she has work to do. Ces, on the other hand, finds it harder and harder to resist–she even forgoes work for that very same family lunch–and becomes torn between her not-relationship with Mackie on the one hand, and her application for work in Singapore on the other. And the usual Philippine-brand of romance techniques rear its head, with sob lines and an injured heart, a callous third party and, yes, more sob lines. And because it is a Valentine’s movie and people demand happy endings, both see the error of their ways (well, Mackie’s neediness is only summarily addressed while Ces goes on to have a heart-to-heart talk with her Ma) and, voila, make-up song and they are in a relationship.
Now, you may think that I am terribly disappointed with this movie. Actually… not at all. Unofficially Yours avoids as much pitfalls as it finds itself falling into. In a sense of gumption rarely seen in male leads, John Lloyd’s character does not go head over heels when his ex shows up in the family lunch. Angel gets slightly jealous, but just that: slightly, without any real basis and only to illustrate her growing feelings for John Lloyd, and briefly. Nor does anyone moralize over the appalling and depraved scenario that is the one-night stand. And even in comparison with all the literature I’ve mentioned earlier, Unofficially Yours is able to stand up, if not with a victorious pose and a smug smile, then at least with a straight back. The movie certainly does not have the ability to make Mackie’s article improve through the power of love discovered (despite what the film tries to portray), nor does it explore the possibility of Ces becoming satisfied (or should I say satiated?) with sex and sex alone. The beauty of rediscovering beauty in the midst of pain, the increasing depravity of the human person–these themes are wonderful, no doubt, but it would be a happy genius who could pull it off together with the happy ending demanded during the Valentines season. As Jose Dalisay says, the most difficult of stories to write is a credible and riveting love story set in McDonald’s or Jollibee in Quiapo or Cubao–much more if it is to have a happy ending. So Unofficially Yours, while retaining a bit of the old Philippine cinema sob lines and lack of middlegame power (Patrick Garcia was almost a deus ex machina, and Angel’s back story did not even have a scene to go with her narration), follows the merrier path of Hollywood.
Of course, this is not to say that mainstream Hollywood is the ideal when it comes to one-night stands. The best one-night stand films I know, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in tandem, are mature while fresh, and while these do not have the confetti and the fanfare and the rainbows the Hollywood staple love story has, these do leave a warm afterglow, one that is not quite the giddiness of being in love, but something that goes beyond it.
And to those who are worried about the future of Philippine cinema: despair not! If you’ve noted the movies I’ve attached to John Lloyd and Angel earlier, you may find that, though these are nothing approaching earth-shattering Oscar-baggers, In My Life and In the Name of Love are not completely of the old pattern of local films: much like Baler and Rosario (which I have mentioned elsewhere), they are stepping-stones, tentative dips into the water. I’ve had the peculiar experience of watching a so-called vintage local movie, whose title I cannot and, if ever, will not recall. Only allow me to say that our moviemakers are gaining ground. Just give them more time!