‘Status: It’s Complicated:' A Joke Worth Repeating
MANILA, Philippines – "Status: It’s Complicated" is the modern day remake of Ishmael Bernal’s "Salawahan;" a racy, irreverent camp comedy that at first, seems like an odd choice of film, given Bernal’s plethora of masterpieces. But while Bernal is widely recognized for his more dramatic work in "Manila by Night" and "Himala," it is comedies like "Salawahan" that ultimately showcases Bernal’s versatility as a storyteller.
This time, the director’s chair is handed off to writer-director Chris Martinez. Though the former playwright had struck gold with "Here Comes the Bride" and the recent remake of "Temptation Island," the immediate challenge before Martinez is climbing the mountain that is Bernal’s reputation. Fortunately, the film’s material lines up perfectly with Martinez’s sensibilities as a director.
"Status: It’s Complicated" follows the romantic and sexual exploits of Manny (Jake Cuenca) and Jerry (Paulo Avelino), two friends whose treatment of women is as different as day and night. Manny jumps at every willing skirt he finds, while Jerry retreats under the guise of prudishness. But when Manny falls head over heels for the headstrong Rina (Maja Salvador), Jerry is forced to juggle the seductive Syvlia (Solenn Heusaff) and the more mature Marian David (Eugene Domingo). The two friends find themselves thrown around a story that’s equal parts screwball and barkada comedy. Its premise is perfect for modern day commercial cinema, and it’s still astounding that it was conceptualized more than three decades ago.
A different brand of comedy
Like Bernal before him, Martinez doesn’t weigh his characters down with long, elaborate backstories. Jerry, Manny, Rina, Yvonne and Mariana David are all are basic and unambiguous. They love. They lust. But the nuance of Jose Carreon’s original screenplay isn’t dependent on our innate desire to make and find love. Instead it hinges in the ensuing complications of choosing to do so.
Still, there is a refreshing simplicity to the film’s story, distilled and refined to the most quintessential components of any script: action and dialogue.
In this case, the dialogue is sharp and swift. The exchange of words creates a frenetic energy as characters push and pull at each other with arguments on love, sex and relationships. It’s amazing how much of Jose Carreon’s original screenplay makes it into the update, but doubly so with how Martinez makes it his own. But Martinez plays up his cast with such sustained adrenaline that, towards the film’s latter half, even the script’s strongest lines begin to sputter and plateau.
Despite the high horse Bernal has been put on, "Salawahan," like "Status: It’s Complicated" is far from flawless. Some antics don’t translate as well as they did back in the late 1970s, and redundancies still abound. Regardless, "Status: It’s Complicated" offers a different brand of comedy.
While Bernal originally settled for camp and kitsch for "Salawahan," Martinez takes his 21st century update to near cartoonish proportions. Jerry, Manny, and their respective love interests all seem too large to be real, which is only emphasized by Martinez’s choice of decadent sets and garish color. But it does manage to accentuate the film’s heightened sense of reality. Characters break the fourth wall at leisure, and the film prances around the borders of self-awareness.
The lifeblood of this film is bright colored spectacle. Audiences hoping for a more nuanced treatment of Bernal’s comedy will need to look elsewhere. But in defense of Martinez, this isn’t 1979.
Text messaging, selfies, Captain America and Boracay all act as signposts for the times. But while pop culture references and trending topics are all part of the immediate conversation, they do not trap the film within an easily dated zeitgeist.
Characterizing a classic
While "Status: It’s Complicated" is an obvious work of fiction, it’s still more grounded than most escapist storylines. When Jerry and Manny ultimately switch roles from the committed to the free-spirited (and vice versa), the film makes no judgments on either of them. There is no overbearing moral lesson and blatant formula for happiness. But there is love, there is lust, and there are gratuitous amounts of it.
Regardless, "Status: It’s Complicated" still has the shadow of its predecessor to contend with. Cinephiles and Bernal purists will undoubtedly argue about the necessity of Martinez’s remake, as well as his creative choices with the material. But in the world of remakes and rehashes, relevance and context become key to the discussion. Thirty years have passed since Salawahan, and Bernal as a name has but faded into the obscurity of Philippine cinema archives. Now, Martinez is aiming to bring that back with salvos of dialogue and cleverer-than-thou comedy.
"Status: It’s Complicated" is still an outlier among other mainstream comedies, in much the same way "Salawahan" was three decades ago. But its story is a telling reminder about how after so many years, we still suffer from the same highs and lows as any love and lust-struck individual.
Whatever anyone might think of Martinez’s remake of Bernal’s classic, a more tantalizing question would be what Bernal himself would think. If one could guess, he’d probably laugh at how relationships are still as ridiculous as they’ve always been, and always will be.
Even if we now have Martinez to thank for that.
Watch the trailer here:
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on twitter at @zigmarasigan.