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More 'Significant' than expected.

You never know what you'll get when you watch Joel Lamangan's movies. He is as unpredictable and dicey as he is clockwork-efficient. And you need not go as far back as his 'Kalapating Musmos' or 'Darna' heyday-his four films last year should suffice. How prolific can you get?

While the gritty 'Bhoy Instik' was one of 2017's most compulsively watchable and thematically pertinent indies, it was hard to make heads or tails out of 'Foolish Love,' 'Bes and the Beshies' and the rom-com head-scratcher 'This Time I'll be Sweeter'-which made us more cranky than sweet.

Direk Joel's latest film, 'The Significant Other,' is far from perfect, but it's better than expected and is a, well, significant cut above 'Sweeter,' 'Foolish' and 'Beshies.' Even as it hews closely to local cinema's template for melodramatic scorchers about marital infidelity, it doesn't demonize the sinner more than his or her sins of commission and omission.

While not entirely devoid of catty displays of crowd-pleasing dramatic pomp and camp, the production's storytelling tack largely benefits from the impassioned but winking performances of Lovi Poe (as secretly married top model Maxene de Vera) and Erich Gonzales (as promising new mannequin on the block Nicole Dimaculangan).

Nicole and Maxene become fast friends in an industry that inspires competition and encourages constant reinvention. But, their friendship is soon threatened by the shocking realization that they're in love with the same guy, dermatologist Edward Santillan (Tom Rodriguez), whose medical license should be revoked for stealing an inappropriate kiss from his patient during a birthmark-lightening procedure.

A startling scene that unabashedly plays to the peanut gallery shows the production's combative runway vixens engaging in a round of verbal one-upmanship as they take turns kissing their duplicitous Romeo during a fashion show.

In another implausible, 'happily ever after' sequence, the warring factions are seen letting bygones be bygones by coyly and cloyingly coming together to support the two-timing lout's artistic endeavors.

But, we must note how unfairly Maxene and Nicole are made to feel bad for situations beyond their control. They pin the blame on each other, while the charming man responsible for atrocious acts of deception and manipulation gets off pretty much scot-free. How's that for double standards?

From left: Erich, Tom and Lovi

Tom is a credible lothario, but his motivations and, to use acting-school jargon, 'psychological actions' are more ambivalent than clarificatory. But, this time at least, his dialogue delivery feels less stilted and more natural.

'The Significant Other' plays out like 'Bituing Walang Ningning' on the catwalk. It may not have the enduring likability or the perspicacious comeuppance of other catfights inspired by the Dorina vs Lavinia duel, but Lovi and Erich acquit themselves well in their respective roles.

Who fares better? This is where appropriate casting crucially comes into play: Erich has consistently been a lovely, sensitive actress, and the production proficiently gets her up to speed as a promdi-turned-fashionista. Still, her otherwise competent portrayal requires suspension of disbelief, because she doesn't quite measure up to her character's swanlike bearing.

Lovi gets the upper hand on point of characterization, because her continually evolving thespic skill set complements how she fits the alluring role to a T-she sashays, swishes and preens like a topnotch model. But, she goes beyond 'physicality.'

When selfishness gets in the way of Maxene's happiness, she wears her heart on her sleeve for all the world to see.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Feb 25, 2018
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