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‘Labyu with an Accent’ review: Hard to like, let alone love

Lé Baltar

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‘Labyu with an Accent’ review: Hard to like, let alone love

Star Cinema

'One can easily identify films that have confronted the plight of Filipino workers abroad with far better imagination'

On paper, the pairing of Coco Martin and Jodi Sta. Maria seems to be the most viable formula for a film that hopes to ride the Metro Manila Film Festival’s hunger for commercial success.

After all, Martin has just wrapped up the record-breaking seven-year run of ABS-CBN’s primetime teleserye FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano, serving as its lead star and co-director. Sta. Maria has also claimed a notable feat after becoming the first Filipina to win the best lead actress plum at the 2022 Asian Academy Creative Awards, after turning in indelible work in The Broken Marriage Vow, the Philippine adaptation of the British show Doctor Foster.

ABS-CBN surely weighed audience expectations, especially for a romantic-comedy that is set to come out during the holidays — a season when viewers hope to stumble upon a big screen experience worth their time and money amidst soaring inflation and a transportation crisis. The result, however, will still find them immensely wanting. As it is, Labyu with an Accent is hardly refreshing work, like food in a dish better left looked at than tasted.

The story centers on Tricia (Sta. Maria), a career woman living in the United States who is about to wed her fiancé Matt (Rafael Rosell), only to be cheated on. To find healing, Tricia flies back to the Philippines, against the wishes of the overbearing Walter (Michael de Mesa), her father with whom her relationship has turned cold and distant. 

She is welcomed by her grandmother (Nova Villa) and later runs into her childhood friend Daisy (Rochelle Pangilinan), who introduces her to Gabo (Martin), a club entertainer who lives paycheck to paycheck. Gabo then offers Tricia his services – the so-called Ultimate Jowa Experience – which, of course, changes the trajectory of their little meet-cute.

This plot point alone lays bare a narrative foreseeable from miles away — one that can only be saved by the film’s commitment to this creative decision. But Martin and Malu Sevilla’s direction is too eager to shatter that right after the first act, never mind how rushed things could come off, never mind if they had established an emotional foundation credible enough to move the story forward.

Labyu with an Accent knows how to tease the audience with its supposed romcom offering, but sadly, tease is all it’s got, struggling to find a language to make its conceit far more appealing. So by the next two acts, the film decides to turn “hard mode” on, unraveling a plot progression that registers like a totally different creature.

Even the acting from the talented leads ends up too contrived. Martin’s insistence in displaying his charm is a push and pull; adorable one moment, borderline icky the next. Sta. Maria, on the other hand, feels like she’s in her usual element until she begins to sport her rather phony American accent. Pangilinan’s performance, on the contrary, warrants credit. Her bubbly go-getter Daisy makes for welcome relief, despite the character’s presence being mostly allotted in the first act.

As the story is told, everything morphs into an us-against-the-world odyssey that hardly feels inventive. At her father’s command, Tricia travels back to America just when her affection for Gabo begins to take shape, and, as if no one sees it coming, Gabo follows her there — an impulsive decision later overstuffed by narrative choices too keen to raise the stakes higher.

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For what it’s worth, Labyu with an Accent still manages to make a point about Filipino labor: how America’s grandeur obscures a system that subjects immigrants to routine violence (as embodied by how Gabo tries to be on low profile to avoid drawing the attention of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to no avail), and how living in the Philippines has become synonymous with taking one job after another relentlessly.

The fault, however, lies in how the film drives this message across. One can easily identify films that have confronted the plight of Filipino workers abroad with far better imagination: Olivia Lamasan’s Milan (2004), Baby Ruth Villarama’s Sunday Beauty Queen (2016), and Antoinette Jadaone’s Never Not Love You (2018), just to name a few.

Had Labyu with an Accent realized early on that it could work better as a romcom with cunning expedients, then it would have been a deserving experience, but even that sounds like asking the film for more than it can manage. 

Understandably, the script can only afford to take the convenient route, culminating in a way that only underdeveloped, less wiser materials can. What of Gabo’s misogynistic tendencies? What of Tricia’s agency to take on a job, the very thing that caused a rift in her relationship with Gabo? Questions remain until the credits roll.

Needless to say, Labyu with an Accent leaves a lot to be liked, let alone loved. –

Labyu with an Accent is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

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Lé Baltar

Lé Baltar is a Manila-based freelance journalist and film critic for Rappler. Currently serving as secretary of the Society of Filipino Film Reviewers (SFFR), Lé has also written for CNN Philippines Life, PhilSTAR Life, VICE Asia, Young STAR Philippines, among other publications. She is a fellow of the first QCinema International Film Festival Critics Lab.