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The opening montage of Joyce Bernal’s Everything About Her succinctly reveals almost everything about Vivian Rabaya (Vilma Santos), the real estate mogul who is the heart and center of the film.
The rousing speech she is giving in front of an audience of influential people is surprisingly peppered with vulgar language, showing that she has all the confidence to say whatever is on her mind, wherever, simply because of her undeniable stature. Her closet magnanimity, which is revealed during her sudden side trips to feed random street children, reveals that there is kindness beneath her icy exterior.
Almost immediately, the film retreats from the luxurious locations of Vivian’s life and into the lackluster existence of Jaica Domingo (Angel Locsin), the charmingly candid lady who becomes Vivian’s private nurse. Bernal’s camera follows Jaica along the alleyways of her humble neighborhood, as she hops into a jeepney, and up the elevator to her work, in almost real time, reminiscent of the many films that exploit poverty for cinematic experience.
Within just a few minutes of the film, Bernal captures the two worlds that collide. A lot ofn the film’s comedy comes from either Jaica kowtowing to Vivian’s unreasonable demands or Vivian tolerating Jaica’s middlebrow concerns. The film’s drama, on the other hand, is sourced from the third main character, Albert Mitra (Xian Lim), Vivian’s estranged son who Jaica convinces to go home to be with his mother.
Not about class struggles
Everything About Her however isn’t a film about class struggles, although it displays without even batting an eyelash the glaring gap between the wealthy and working classes in the country. This is a film that has a character fly a helicopter from Manila to Tagaytay just to shout expletives to a failing underling, while her struggling nurse has to hitch a ride with the subdivision security to save her ward’s life from the unbearable aches of a cancer-ridden body.
The world where wealth disparity is grossly apparent is merely used as a stage for the film’s weepy story of a mother attempting to redeem herself for all the sins she inflicted on her son while in pursuit of an illustrious career.
Vivian however is but a product of fantasy. She is written to be a stereotype borne out of everything media has conceived self-made successful women to be. She is the devil who wears Prada, the Amor Powers without the love life, the quintessential billionairewho is perfect at everything except at expressing the most tender of her emotions. In other words, Vivian is an aspiration, while Jaica, who is depicted with less clichés, is the vantage point of the audience from which they can peek at a life of speculated spectacle of high society living.
Given that she plays a character that teeters towards caricature, Santos is tasked to humanize Vivian, which she does with astounding ease.
She manifests a quiet understanding of the character, depicting the role of an uncomplicated woman without the histrionics that one often sees from comediennes who are required to portray dramatic roles and the discomfort that one often observes from serious thespians who are forced to be uncharacteristically comical.
Locsin provides Santos more than ample support. She is charismatic and amiable but not to the point of patronizing a character that is written to champion the diligence of the working class, or in this film’s case, the members of the nursing profession.
Their scenes together are mostly golden, with the two actresses effortlessly earning chuckles or tears from their innate understanding of their characters ludicrous situations.
Lim plays the angst-ridden man-child well enough. The role only requires him to brood and be emotionally impenetrable. Unfortunately, when the story requires him to be softer, he persists to play the stoic son, squandering the opportunity to maximize a role that explores various spectrums of an adult who is still haunted by his childhood. Lim is simply unable to grant his character depth beyond calculated gestures, welling eyes and fumbled lines.
Commendable balancing act
Everything About Her is predictable, which isn’t necessary a problem. There is also something inherently wrong about the message of women being forced to choose between motherhood and their careers, but that message is but part and parcel of the studio’s family-friendly and escapist agendas.
It is a film that does not necessarily earn its fairy tale conclusion, but its efforts in allowing its audience to bask in feel-good escapism is not completely wrong. In the end, it deserves its rainbow, even though the rains that precede it is blanketed in all the conveniences formula affords.
Bernal has the sense to treat all the tropes with levity, inflicting comedy when necessary, and then toning everything down when the story steers towards seriousness. This balancing act is commendable, as it results in a film that is initially silly and whimsical, but essentially heartfelt where it counts. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ Tirad Pass. Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios