MANILA, Philippines – There were many moments while watching Sisterakas that I was sure I was not meant to be watching it.
Not that it was made to alienate me, but rather that it was made for an audience, and I was not a part of that target audience.
If there were any doubts, they were dispelled by all of the in-jokes and celebrity chismis-based gags.
It’s that moment when everyone is laughing but you. That was me, for the whole movie.
It starts with the young versions of leads Vice Ganda and Ai-Ai de las Alas, who bond through their common love for fashion.
She can design dresses and he, well, he is good at pag-rampa. They are half-sibs, their father being one to poke the household help as well as his wife. And though a friendship is forged, it is quickly broken as Ai-Ai’s mother finds the father in bed with Vice Ganda’s mother. A wacky scene ensues which results in Vice Ganda and his mother being thrown out into the rain. Vice Ganda’s Totoy/Bernice swears revenge on the Sabroso family.
Fast-forward many years and Bernice is now a successful fashion designer.
He lords it over everyone, especially his personal assistants. And in ice-queen-like extravagance he rules his little kingdom. He is in competition with another fashion design company, and in the balance hangs a European account (Yeah, I didn’t get this. Might again be my lack of understanding of the situation and references, or whatever). This other company is headed by Kris Aquino.
Bernice has spent his life planning his revenge. And then the opportunity walks into his office: Ai-Ai de las Alas’ Detty Sabroso is struggling in life, and she applies to be Bernice’s executive assistant. Cue series of terrible things for her to do, as part of said revenge.
So this film has 3 main story-lines that sort of weave in and out of each other: the bigger story is the revenge Bernice is chasing. Then there’s the competition with the other company. And a considerably smaller story is a little love sub-plot involving Bernice’s nephew and Detty’s daughter.
Let’s be clear here. The story doesn’t matter. Really. Everything winds up just as you would expect it to.
There are no surprises, no twists and turns. The story serves to just get us from one point to the next, from one setting to the next.
There are a bunch of fashion shows and other things to change up the settings and supposedly give us some narrative movement.
But at its heart, Sisterakas is a series of skits. Each scene or skit serves as a jumping board for jokes. These jokes are usually slapstick, sight gags, or based on quips and quick retorts. The base of it is barahan and asaran.
Vice Ganda has become known for a particular brand of verbal humor, and that is on display here. What it has to do with the scenes or how characters are, well, that doesn’t really matter, as long as Vice is hitting punchlines.
I guess that’s one of the things I kept thinking about. The humor was not organic to the situations or scenes presented. I mean, the scenes and situations did not serve up humorous opportunities. Rather, the default humor of Vice Ganda or Ai-Ai de las Alas were allowed to play around in those settings.
This can be good at times. Sometimes it gets weird, or sad. For example, there is a running gag that keeps mentioning James Yap. While I am aware (sort of) of his relationship with Kris Aquino, I was not exactly sure how that was really funny. Then again, I will have to say again, it might be me not getting it.
Also, well, yes, de las Alas has a big chin, and we’ve been making jokes about it her whole career. Must we keep doing so? I guess Sisterakas thinks so.
Anyway, I can’t be too hard on this movie. Probably because it resembles the kinds of Filipino comedies that I loved as a kid. It plays to a specific kind of humor, and a specific kind of culture. It draws on an in-thing (fashion industry) and builds a workable comedy around it. Plot doesn’t matter. Tension, not much either. Actors are essentially playing versions of themselves.
Oh, and there’s a sequence in an abandoned warehouse at the end.
During the screening I went to, which was packed wall-to-wall, the audience went wild with the jokes. I laughed a few times.
I think that if, upon seeing the trailer, you think this is your kind of movie, then go on and enjoy it, because it probably is.
For me, well, let’s just say now I understand what it feels like when I make someone watch a Star Wars parody and they’ve never seen Star Wars.
You feel like you totally missed out, but oh well.
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The 38th Metro Manila Film Festival will run from December 25, 2012 to January 7, 2013 in cinemas nationwide. For more information, visit the official MMFF website.
(Carljoe Javier teaches at the UP Department of English and Comparative Literature. He has written a few books, most recently the new edition of The Kobayashi Maru of Love available from Visprint Inc. and the upcoming Writing 30 available as an ebook at amazon, ibookstore, b&n and flipreads.com.)