I don’t usually watch the last full show, but I was only able to leave work at 8pm last Friday (completing my first week at Summit Publishing), so the 10pm showing of Mark Meily’s La Visa Loca was the only option.
Based on Meily’s Palanca Award-winning screenplay Penitensya Nation, this follow up to his acclaimed Crying Ladies allows Robin Padilla and Rufa Mae Quinto performances that most Filipinos may not appreciate. He’s not the action hero who saves the day, and she’s not the hilarious boob-tube vixen. In fact, Meily makes sure that we rid ourselves of all previous impressions surrounding these two crowd-pleasers by placing them in shoes worn out by a life of vulnerability. Their resulting performances, though awkward at times, are refreshing and sincere.
Padilla plays Jesse, a hotel driver who yearns to go to the United States. Beyond his desire to join his girlfriend who works in the West Coast, he’s clearly enchanted by the mere idea of rubbing elbows with Uncle Sam, even if it meant leaving behind his sickly father (played excellently by Johnny Delgado). Steering him through the story are his former girlfriend Mara (Quinto) and her son, as well as the quintet of pasyon singers who serve as narrator, conscience and commentary.
Padilla shows quite a range here, though not the schizo kind being demanded of today's young stars. La Visa Loca is not a hearty comedy, nor a biting satire, so there's a fine line to tread in terms of acting. The best approach to this material is to act like you're not acting, wherein the 'star' of the show is situation, circumstance, and consequence. Padilla doesn't resort to his old macho tricks (and I don't think Meily allowed him to) and admirably becomes the real everyman, passionate and determined on one level, then stumped and clueless the next.
I wished that Quinto had more to play with, as her role was too straightforward and uninteresting, less of the supporting character she was meant to be given her amount of exposure in the film. In my opinion, her character could’ve been written off without affecting much. I was delighted to see Paul Holme--a fellow cast in Angels In America--with a far meatier role. (He'd joke about how he always got to play the off-center American soldier who dies two or three times in Filipino war movies.) He was a bit too theatrical playing the television journalist, but I guess that’s meant to emphasize the vulnerability of Padilla’s character.
Overall, La Visa Loca was less solid than Crying Ladies. To me, the editing was jumpy in places and the ending was half-baked. It’s a delight to watch, no question about that. But it’s a Unitel film, so I couldn’t help but raise my expectations.