'Call Center Girl:' Graver than the graveyard shift
MANILA, Philippines – Don Cuaresma’s "Call Center Girl" was made to entertain. There is absolutely no question about it.
The movie has almost all the elements of a television sitcom. It is pregnant with gags, most of which is gratingly dull and mechanical. Its idea of substance is nothing more than motherhood statements on motherhood which would have had more effect if they were written in a greeting card rather than in this movie.
Bereft of any real substance, it aspires for nothing else but shallow giggles that quickly dissipate once the feeling of being cheated of hard earned money starts settling in.
At the center of the movie is Pokwang, who turns her role of Teresa, a recently repatriated mother, into a repetitive spectacle, or worse, a ponderous anomaly. She rapidly mouths supposedly funny nonsense, automatically bursts into tears with superhuman ease, and needlessly performs splits and stunts for no apparent reason.
By the middle of the movie, the curiously charismatic comedienne turns the hapless mother into a circus act, siphoning all humanity out of an already thinly-written character.
Yet "Call Center Girl" actually begs for sympathy for Teresa, who as directed by Cuaresma and portrayed by Pokwang, is woefully immature. She is presented as the pinnacle of Filipino suffering.
She is an overseas worker, slaving away in a cruise ship for the survival of her family. She returns just to be widowed and to find out that her youngest daughter (Jessy Mendiola) abhors her. Just to repair her relationship with her wayward daughter, she works with her in a call center, spending her nights selling useless fitness products to depressed Americans just to earn enough money to pay for her daughter’s whims.
If the plot is familiar, it is not because it grossly resembles reality. It is because it has been told and retold – in various other films and shows that portray the Filipino mother as constantly misunderstood and mistreated. Setting the plot within the world of call centers is nothing more than a needless front. "Call Center Girl" says nothing relevant about the lifestyle and profession it brazenly utilizes for its own generic purposes.
Cuaresma’s only attempt at originality lies in his effort to juggle within the sordidly schizophrenic narrative his brand of inane comedy with the requirements of sappy melodrama. The attempt is evidently a failure since never once does "Call Center Girl" evoke anything other than uninspired silliness.
There is very little characterization elsewhere in the movie. Every character is either a stereotype or an ornament, meant to be nothing more than an ingredient to carry on a punchline. The movie is afflicted by atrociously lazy writing. The characters, instead of being shaped from concept or the logic of the story, are just reliant on the offscreen personas and charisma of the actors and actresses playing them.
Consequently, "Call Center Girl" hardly feels thought out. It has the feel of sterile improvisation. It is what it was set out to be, entertainment, the cheap and horrible kind.
Watch the trailer here:
Francis Joseph Cruz, or Oggs, litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters is Carlo J. Caparas’ "Tirad Pass." Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.
More from Oggs Cruz: