‘Family History’ review: Surprisingly poignant debut
There’s a delicate sense of awkwardness that pervades throughout Family History, comedian Michael V.’s surprisingly poignant debut feature.
Tragedies and betrayals
The film is a family drama that navigates the emotional turmoil of Alex dela Cruz (also played by Michael V.) after learning that his wife (Dawn Zulueta) has been diagnosed with cancer and also that she has been cheating on him.
What sets it apart is that instead of relying on tearful outbursts to send its message across, Michael V. posits humor, turning what could have been a run-of-the-mill melodrama into an intricate character study of a perennial optimist suddenly dealt with a string of tragedies and betrayals. The jokes and witticisms can be off-putting at first, especially when they are blurted at the most inopportune circumstances such as during a doctor’s consultation or at the expense of another person such as the ones delivered behind the back of a homosexual boss who is still in the closet.
However, as the film persists with this purposefully inelegant melding of nonsense and real life concerns, it becomes apparent that there is rhyme and reason to the misplaced and misdirected wisecracking, that the preponderance of gags and smiles serves as a mask of normalcy amidst a maelstrom of feelings that are far too complicated to comprehend.
Family History is precious because it deeply understands that tears, cries and whimpers aren’t the only logical response to depression. There is also escape, dubious laughter and unlikely merrymaking, all of which Michael V. expertly utilized to project the complicated humanity his character needs to keep intact in times of crisis.
Innate and apt
This isn’t to say that Family History is a perfect film.
The film still bows down to the demands of simplistic plotting, with threads that favor formula than less convenient and recycled narrative solutions. For example, the storyline of Alex’s son (Miguel Tanfelix) culminates like most other standard storylines involving youth finding themselves troubled by familial pressures with a song contest where a syrupy ballad that imbibes the more mawkish sentiments of the film is performed.
The film’s faults lie mainly on Michael V.’s desire for his film to be more of a wide-eyed crowd-pleaser than a possibly disagreeable and complex examination of an ordinary man trying to sustain enthusiasm despite pressing issues.
There is more to Family History than the jokes or the drama or those two elements not gelling gracefully, whether intentionally or not. The film feels familiar, except its grooves, rhythm and mood are not as simple to pin down. It challenges without completely surrendering mainstream appeal and charms. Sure, it all ends up more awkward than necessary but with a main character that thrives in problematic awkwardness, it all seems innate and apt.
Family History is both smart and handsomely made.
It has bitter stings that are only sweetened by goofiness. Michael V.’s foray to filmmaking proves to be quite a pleasant revelation. — 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.