The New Conservative
Director: Cathy Garcia Molina
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Angel Locsin, Boom Labrusca, Edgar Allan Guzman, Tetchie Agbayani, K Brosas
I can’t say I didn’t enjoy Unofficially Yours. Because I did. An enjoyment, however, that went nothing beyond the purely escapist pleasure of being in a darkened cinema by yourself for two hours, away from nagging office deadlines, obscenely increasing gas and power rates and other daily burdens that, unfortunately, are officially ours.
The film seemed promising, topbilled by two of the best actors of their generation and directed by Star Cinema’s resident auteur. Many were raving. The moviehouse I saw it in was still pretty packed. And yet, in spite of all that it had going for it, I found the film ultimately unremarkable.
What I hate about the film is that it’s one big bluff. First, it dangles the prospect of exploring an alternative “modern” relationship: the non-committal fuck buddy, popularized recently by successful Hollywood productions like Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached. The problem is, the prospect is only dangled. There is no actual exploration of the logic and psyche behind casual affairs. In fact, the film clearly defines its conservative heart, the way Mackie, after their initial encounter, is quick to worry about Ces thinking that he’s “that kind of guy.”
Despite the titular prominence of the topic, there is no actual insight into the non-committal relationship. Yes, the film shows us a lot of casual sex (strangely sans any kind of nudity whatsoever) but it is also quick to assert that there must be something wrong with it, that it’s neither a good nor viable setup.
In the first place, their relationship isn’t even that casual. It’s basically a monogamous courtship with rough sex. While the plot starts with casual sex, the rest of the plot is standard rom-com. Mackie himself admits that he doesn’t really “do that,” and neither do we see Ces sleeping around with other guys. Perhaps that’s why they used the term unofficial instead of non-committal. Ces really does want the sabaw over the laman, she’s just too chicken to deal with it. The topic isn’t actually casual relationships, it’s just how to get from unofficial to official.
The film’s other glaring—and irritating—bluff is Ces herself, the “strong, independent female.” A go-getter, she is the real initiator of the casual relationship. Ces is the literal woman on top, with Mackie submitting to the pleasurable abandon she provides. Even in the workplace, Ces is the teacher and Mackie, the student. Ces scoffs at seeing her mother constantly bawling over the loss of some lover. She refuses to be circumscribed to the societal expectations of a good “girlfriend.” She is the modern woman. She doesn’t need men.
But Ces’ seemingly alternative view on femininity and relationships turns out to be one big defense mechanism, a mere placebo for a broken heart. By the last quarter of the film, Ces reveals that she’s unwilling to commit not because she is sexually liberated or critical of normative roles and expectations of women; she’s just too afraid to love again. The seemingly strong woman crumbles within the span of one extended and tearful speech, and we see her for what she really is: an extremely hurt and cowardly damsel in distress.
Ces, despite her progressive aura, is far from liberated, not even just hedonistic. The film’s signifiers are clear. Ces and Mackie both work for the Manila Bulletin, the nation’s oldest and most conservative daily. While she is shown as a ruthless and hardworking reporter, she remains confined to the lifestyle section, the “lipstick beat” in journalistic parlance, from which generations of women journalists have long sought to emancipate themselves. Ces tells Mackie that she only wants a casual relationship, but what she really wants is to—surprise!—fall in love again.
Unofficially Yours is mere fodder for chicks who 1. love John Lloyd and 2. like to think of themselves as forward-thinking and liberated, but secretly wish for a guy who will pull out the chair, shower them with roses and chocolates, and treat them like the princesses they are. This is a film for a generation of women who reap the fruits of historical feminist struggles (the right to vote, work, and live as they wish) but are still smitten with the vestiges of patriarchy (fantasies of chivalry, female fragility, monogamy). To all the Carrie Bradshaws of the third world, this film is for you.
Why does Star Cinema keep churning out these conservative films? The quest for profit, of course, limits the kinds of films the mainstream is willing to make. In the case of Unofficially Yours, Star Cinema seems to want the artistic license of a provocative romantic comedy but expects the box office returns of a family-oriented film. The product of such an irreconcilable dilemma is a conceptually half-baked material that promises sex and a contrary view on monogamy, but only delivers run-of-the-mill kilig and, well, monogamy.
The material is further limited by the authors’ belief systems. What are the creators’ values and sensibilities? What do they have to say about casual relationships? Do they approve? This is then adjusted even more to fit their approximation of the audience’s capacity to understand. Based on the final outcome, the creators seem to believe that the audience cannot think like them, cannot be more liberal than them, that the material needs to be tamed down to the most ridiculously basic of levels to the point of contradicting itself.
And yet, even with this conceptual dissonance and extreme self-suppression, there is no excuse for a poorly-made script. The best artists can make masterpieces from the most limited of palettes, and cinema is a testament to how the most clichéd concepts can be transformed into the most compelling pieces of entertainment. Yet Unofficially Yours suffers from the most uncreative and convenient plot devices, among others: Ces revealing everything in a single long speech, exes turning up right after they become relevant, and everything being resolved by way of an old cheesy pop song.
The film’s biggest strength is its colorful cast of supporting characters. Ironically, it is also its most blatant weakness. Mackie’s plus-sized pamilya is endearing, and his roommates, hunks Boom Labrusca (drool) and Edgar Allan Guzman (double drool) plus token lesbian, are lovable. What a waste, for none of them are characters in themselves. As promising as they are, they only exist to support Macky and Ces’s relationship, nothing more.
The poster pretty much represents the film. Its real title, the annoying camel-case jejemonic “ÜnOfficially Yours,” is plain gimmickry (reminiscent of past Star Cinema titles like My Only Ü and #MyCactusHeart). Mackie’s physique, atypical for a leading man, promises a more “real,” relatable and quotidian experience, but the high gloss and obvious Photoshop enhancements say otherwise. The newspapers from which they hide behind lend an affect of hard-hitting reality, but upon closer inspection, the headlines are nothing but fake (and needy) statements on love. Unofficially Yours forwards a liberated attitude, but Ces and Mackie’s embarrassed stance exposes its prudish core. #
The official trailer.
A behind-the-scenes featurette.
Entry filed under: Edgar Allan Paule, Filipino films, Full length films. Tags: angel locsin, bluff, boom labrusca, casual, casual encounter, casual relationship, casual relationships, cathy garcia molina, conservatism, conservative, edgar allan guzman, food writing, genre, heterosexual, john lloyd cruz, journalism, journalist, lifestyle writing, love, manila bulletin, one night stand, prude, prudishness, relationships, romantic comedy, star cinema.