Monday, August 18, 2003

Pagsasamang Kayganda... Noon at Ngayon
Starring: Dina Bonnevie, Cherry Pie Picache, Jean Garcia, Eula Valdez, Laurice Guillen, Marvin Agustin, Paolo Contis, Jodi Sta. Maria, Aiza Marquez, Dimples Romana, Patrick Garcia, Jericho Rosales, Noni Buencamino etc. etc.
Screenplay: Ricky Lee
Direction: Marilou Diaz-Abaya
Star Cinema

Like its predecessor (1983's Moral, also by Diaz-Abaya), Pagsasamang Kayganda... Noon at Ngayon tackles societal changes from a personal perspective, tackling issues hinged on who we can and cannot love, and resolving lessons of the past with circumstances of the present. There is a rebellious air in the film, made light by the often witty comedy and the accessible melodrama, and what better way to portray morality shifts than through the lives of those who’re on the lower tiers of the Filipino socio-sexual superstructure – women.

Social worker Joey (Dina Bonnevie) comes back from abroad to look after her dying mother Maggie (Laurice Guillen) and reunite with her best friends: effervescent new-ager Kathy (Jean Garcia), strong-willed and principled educator Sylvia (Eula Valdez), and conservative widow Maritess (Cherry Pie Pichache). Sounds like a powerhouse cast right there, and enough lives to delve into within a two-hour stretch.

But noooo. Kathy’s daughter (Aiza Marquez) is unashamed in expressing her devotion to Maritess’ daughter Bryan (Paolo Contis), a proudly gay man who eventually wrestles with handling a relationship with a closeted young politician. Sylvia’s son Bobby (Marvin Agustin) is desparate to get his wife pregnant to satisfy his mother. In turn, Sylvia lives with the fact that her husband (Noni Buencamino) is homosexual, even to the point of befriending the new man in her husband’s life. Maritess’ daughter Guia (Jodi Sta. Maria) is pregnant, thanks to a law student (Patrick Garcia), whom she doesn’t want in her life, content at raising the child on her own. Then Levi (Jericho Rosales), Maritess’ adopted son, falls in love and soon shares intimacies with Joey.

Whew! And to think that this Moral update is supposed to be about four women, period.

Of course, I didn’t get to see Moral. Heck, I was 12 then. But I did see The Hours, a film that’s ten minutes shorter about three women in search of personal happiness. And sorry, but I can’t help but compare the two.

The problem with Pagsasamang Kayganda... is that it deprives you of focus, thanks to the army of ‘supporting characters’ who seem to get as much screen time and attention as the four leads. And because of this executive decision to give the younger stars some acting meat, you begin to wonder who’s supposed to be carrying this film. The premise of seeing the world through the eyes of four women disappears, giving way to an impression of an ensemble piece that’s not quite there.

And I could do without the political symbolism, thank you.

Because it becomes a chore to keep track of this hodge-podge of lives whom we’re all supposed to care about, I focused instead on the acting chops. Stand outs were Eula Valdez (because of her well-portrayed character transformation) and Jericho Rosales (because of his silent intensity). Patrick Garcia was a pleasant surprise, too, at least when he first appears in the film. The rest were, well, good enough to keep things moving.

I guess it all boils down to knowing what to expect, and my fault was expecting Pagsasamang Kayganda... Noon at Ngayon to let me in on the lives of four people who struggle through societal change, to let me care for them as they go through one compromise after another, and to get me to cheer with them as they emerge as stronger people. As it turned out, every character in the film became a neo-archetype of modern society, acquaintances you’d probably see in a social club or a bar, and you hardly get to the core.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

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