FILM REVIEW: IN MY LIFE


The Plot: “…In My Life offers you a different Vilma Santos, a different John Lloyd Cruz and a different Luis Manzano,” said the film’s director, Olivia Lamasan, the woman behind the blockbusters Milan, Sana Maulit Muli, Got 2 Believe and Madrasta. “You have to see the genuine chemistry among these three actors who are together for the first time in a movie. This is also a unique film because it presents a mother in her 50s, thinking that she’s been through all and seen it all, when in actuality, a new chapter in her life is just beginning.” Santos plays Shirley, a public school librarian who wants to be in control of everything. Her unwarranted intervention in the lives of her children and their families leads to their emotional detachment from each other. Feeling she has lost her command over her children, she flies to New York to reunite with his estranged son, Mark (Manzano) only to find out that her son is gay and she has to live with him and his lover, illegal immigrant Noel (Cruz). As Shirley struggles to deal with the situation and with living in the Big Apple, she discovers that being gay is not the only huge secret that Mark is keeping. Discovering what this is will change Shirley’s life forever…” – Manny the Movie Guy (READ MORE)

The Reviews: “…The woman who plays the mother tries hard to be young, which might be the pattern of her recent films. It is not a bad path after all, for one has to graduate from doing the same things for a long time. She has comedic timing, and she has dramatic prowess. When she complains, “Ginagawa niya akong turista! Ikaw ang pinunta ko rito, hindi ‘yung tour!” we laugh because she is witty. When she throws a tantrum after getting lost in the subway, we hate her. Apart from knowing that it was her fault, we can’t stand the charming partner being blamed despite his niceness by an ingrate. It crossed my mind to call her character one of the weakest roles ever written for her, but that’s just because Shirley Templo isn’t too likable. She is repulsive most of the time. Reflecting, the actor has portrayed “unlikable” characters before, even taboo roles for that matter, yet we still like her. But in In My Life, her role tends to go beyond understanding; you just need to be her to understand her. Yet the actor delivers; she deceives us. But the blood of the film flows from the actor who plays the son’s partner. Amid the histrionics and uneven noise of the film in general, he shows his restraint without fuss. Apparently the writers intend to make his character subdued. He exists in the periphery without losing his grip. When he cries at his partner’s back as he hugs him on the bridge, he is the equivalent of sacrifice. Never show the pain, never show the loneliness. That’s us, on the screen. The brief exposure of his family’s life is enough for us to connect with him. Contrary to the emphasis given to the mother’s family, we would like to know him more, know if the lump in his mother’s breast is just a false alarm, know if he’s just fine after crying overnight. We learn about his troubles in staying in the States, how he juggles work and hobby, how he struggles to earn for his marriage. God forbid, we don’t want him to fall into the arms of Pamela. His issues are more interesting, yet what makes him special is that like most people around us, we only get to know him up to a certain extent. He comes and goes. We miss him. We want to see if he’s fine. His distance unsettles us, in a good way…” – Richard Bolisay, Lilok Pelikula (READ MORE)

“…For its exceptional casting alone, In My Life is amazing. Vilma aside, my heart goes out to John Lloyd, that rare dramatic actor who can make you cry just by seeing his eyes well up with tears. He portrays a lover quietly suffering Shirley’s tantrums with restraint and grace, but at the same time, he makes it heartfelt and sincere. I was surprised by John Lloyd and Luis’ screen dynamic as a gay couple. They call each other as Babe, display very romantic photos in their apartment and as the movie ends, they share a tender kiss on Brooklyn Bridge. Onscreen, their love is sweet, hushed and terribly romantic; even more effective and memorable than most hetero screen pairings. As for JLC and Luis being typecast in gay roles or catching social stigma, I have serious doubts about that, for onscreen, they are still as masculine and virile. As for Vilma, she portrayed a multi-dimensional mother who learns to get off her high horse and deal with displaced motherly pride. Later in the movie, Shirley realizes that that even if she’s done everything for her children, she failed to know them as persons. Unlike other mother roles she has done in the past, the Star for All Seasons depicts a flawed mother who eventually finds peace with herself and her past mistakes. Not to be missed is Shirley and Noel’s confrontation wherein the traditional sampalan was reinvented and Noel throws in the lines: “Anak mo lang siya, hindi mo siya pag-aari. Kung ano ang naging siya, dahil ‘yon sa mga taong pumaligid sa kanya, at isa ka lang doon…” – Czeriza Valencia (READ MORE)

“…In “Direk Olive’s ‘In My Life’ is bold and fresh,” by Walden Sadiri (Manila Bulletin, 2009), its director Olive Lamasan is quoted as saying that she helped Santos “rehearse how a librarian walks and looks ‘losyang.’” If this were an article for a scholarly journal, I suppose some questions that could be asked are: Is there such a thing as a “librarian walk”? Are all librarians losyang (Tagalog slang for unglamorous)? But it probably isn’t fair to ask such questions of an article that only seeks to promote the release of a soon-to-be shown film. I think it’s important to remember that Lamasan is talking about a specific character in a particular film. And that it would be a mistake to focus only on this one phrase in the 20-paragraph article or judge the entire movie based on how the librarian is portrayed. I don’t think there was any intention to characterize ALL librarians as losyang. But we also cannot deny that this stereotypical librarian exists. I look at the photo above and remember that more than a few librarians I’ve met dress exactly that way. Should the director perhaps have made sure that all kinds of librarians were represented in her film? It’s not her responsibility to do so and that’s not really how movies are made….” – Filipino Librarian (READ MORE)

“…John Lloyd Cruz as Noel is the archetypal leading man of Star Cinema: a man who loves unconditionally, who suffers for his love, who also happens to be devoted to his parents. He’s predictably given moments to bare his heart out. But Manzano as Mark is the more interesting creation. He’d rather go to the gym than spend time with his Mom, and he makes that strange proposal to her (I won’t give away the surprise), tapping into a son who’s both practical and caring, tough and sweet. Plus, with all that missing sex in the movie, Manzano manages to hint at someone who’s comfortable with it, next to Cruz’s somewhat frozen take on man-to-man touching. But what little gay moments that are permitted to slip through are strong. In one scene, Shirley (Santos) complains that her son never even “came out” to her. In defense, Mark points out the double standard: If his straight siblings were never obligated to declare their straightness, why should he announce his gayness? Lamasan’s co-writers, Raymond Lee and Senedy Que, are minds behind two of the most progressive queer films of our time. (Lee produced Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros; Que wrote and directed Dose.) Like those films, In My Life belies a fierce intelligence, wisdom that comes from a place of experience, at least whenever it’s allowed. The film’s most special move is that it roots Mark’s anxiety — He’s never good enough for Mom — to that moment in adolescence when he felt his homosexuality was a disappointment. Like that scene, the best moments in the film are those which meld specific personal experience to the anyone-can-relate universal — which is really the aim of the genre of melodrama. Santos may be a mother to a gay son, but she’s really just any parent who wants to say sorry for her mistakes. Dimples Romana, in a great supporting performance, is any daughter (or son) who felt like a failure. But the makers don’t know when to ease up on the melodramatic conventions, which stall the movie here and there. Shirley’s journey is marked with obvious, rigid plotpoints. She spends the first part whining about America with a capital A, then finds mini-success as a career woman, complete with feel-good montage. There’s an old-fashioned, weary mannerism to Lamasan’s approach, not helped by her visual team. New York is a flat, gray city in the eyes of cinematographer Charlie Peralta, and lifeless and generic according to production designer Elfren Vibar…” – Franc, The Bakla Review (READ MORE)

“…So in the movie, Vilma is “Shirley Templo” (methinks the joke in the character name will be wasted on many of the audience), a separated lady being convinced to sell an old house officially bequeathed to her by her late father-in-law. Knowing this, she buys herself a plane ticket (on a librarian’s salary) to see her gay son in New York, and forces herself upon his life. The writers do their hardest to show that Luis, who plays Vilma’s son, Mark is the busiest man on their side of the planet. But for the most part, Mark (a.k.a. “Lucky”) just succeeds in looking constipated most of the time. Speaking of constipated, Vilma Santos seems to have over-acted in this movie… there’s grit and nails all over the scene whenever she’s there. Even if grit and nails aren’t necessary for the supposed scene. The forced comedy of some parts were obviously…forced…” – Jasper Greek Lao Golangco (READ MORE)

“…We really wanted “In My Life” to be one of the few films that we will always look back on and cherish as a film that brings a glimmer in our eyes. Unfortunately, that dream won’t happen. So what made “In My Life” bad? First, it was definitely not the acting. We all have praises for the three main protagonists. Vilma was just at her best here and John Lloyd showed how much drama he can show out. Luis needs more improvement but he actually performed well being a homosexual so still, props to him. Second, it also wasn’t the lack of drama thereof. There were oodles upon oodles of scenes where tears will fall and we also liked the occasional break from all the heaviness with light comedic scenes scattered all over the film. Unfortunately, even with all the topnotch acting and drama, the simple truth is that “In My Life” left out one big aspect in a film and that is the story/plot. The story of “In My Life” was just too much for us too digest as there are a lot of unnecessary subplots happening all over the place (especially by the end of the film). As a viewer, we just wanted it to end but the film just gave more, more and more. We think the writers just forced it to have lots of dramatic avenues just for the sake that people will cry. As the saying goes, too much of anything is bad and this holds true here as they do not mesh well. Cry you will but you will might also wonder why. Even though it had unusual twists, it will make you think if it was really necessary to have them happen that way as an effective means to move the story forward. For us, they were not…” – Jed and Vit (READ MORE)

“…A mainstream Filipino film “In My Life” that stars the Philippines’ multi-awarded veteran actress Vilma Santos will premiere on September 27 at the Fox Theater in Redwood City at 2pm. The film also stars Santos’ real life son Luis Manzano and Manila’s matinee idol John Lloyd Cruz. The gay-themed movie was filmed both in Manila and in New York City. The setting, which has the backdrop of the Big Apple and the outskirts of Manila revolves around a doting mother and her gay son, who is not out to her yet. She visits the gay son and finds out he lives with a “Best Friend.” The mother cloys and clings with the son until finally the son gives in with a blow of his ailment. A powerful scene between the mother and her son’s partner will surely wrench the viewers’ hearts when they see the movie…” – Marconi Calindas (READ MORE)

“…Vilma Santos has become the poster girl for these cinematic suffering mothers, having played the progressive mother of children from different fathers in Chito Roño’s Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa? (Lea’s Story, 1998), the maltreated maid from Hong Kong who returns to Manila to ungrateful children in Anak, and the indefatigable mother in Roño’s 2003 adaptation of Lualhati Bautista’s famous novel Dekada ’70, where a middle class family wades through the turbulent decade and evolves from convenient apathy to activism and awareness. In Olivia Lamasan’s In My Life, she plays Shirley Templo, an effective yet stubborn mother to openly gay Mark (Luis Manzano, Santos’ son in real life). Shirley Templo is the culmination of all the mothers that Santos has played: assured because she can pinpoint every little comfort and pleasure that she dutifully has given up for her children and because of that, feels entitled to her children’s undivided loyalty and attention. Thus, when Shirley decides to move to New York City with Mark after learning that her daughter (Dimples Romana, who does wonders in the little role she has; that scene where she laments of her dissolved dream of becoming a doctor is precious) has decided to migrate elsewhere, Noel (John Lloyd Cruz), Mark’s overly loyal boyfriend who is staying illegally in the United States, suddenly becomes the third wheel in Shirley’s belated attempt to reconnect with her son. There is no denying that Santos is a terrific actress. Recently however, she has limited herself to roles that are quite unvaried, to the point of Santos becoming a predictable if not mechanical performer. Her Shirley Templo, while an always entertaining presence because of her amusing quirks (Santos has exquisite comedic timing) and the skill and experience that Santos gives her during the many emotional highlights in the film, feels more like a derivative of everything the actress has done in the last decade. Fortunately, Cruz, who has graduated from playing charming yet soulless boys next door in the many romantic comedies he starred in, gives formidable support to Santos. The methodical manner Cruz gives life to Noel (the extra split seconds that he has his mouth open after every word that is shouted with subtle inflection; the slight gestures that hint of the femininity underneath the masculine exterior) is complemented by the sensitivity and charisma that the actor naturally exudes. Manzano, although largely inconsistent, does quite well, even alongside more talented and more experienced actors like Santos and Cruz…” – Oggs Cruz (READ MORE)

“…Hindi ko rin talaga alam ito sa pagkakaalam ko kasi magsi-celebrate lang ako ng simple lang. Monday kasi is a working day nagkataon lang na exact date ito ng mismong birthday ko ang dami pala nilang preparation na ginawa. So I’m very, very thankful mga Mayors na andito, department heads at halos lahat ng mga empelyado ay narito at nakiisa sa akin,” masayang panimula iyon ni Ate Vi habang pawisan dahil noong mga sandaling kausapin namin siya ay abala ito sa paglilibot sa mga mesa na kung saan naroon ang kanyang mga kaibigan at kasama sa pulitika. “Now that I’m turning 38 I’m so happy,” biro pa ni Ate Vi. Ayon kay Ate Vi walang pagsidlan ang kanyang kaligayahan dahil hindi daw niya talaga alam na bibigyan siya nang bonggang party ng mga taong nagmamahal sa kanya. At dahil dito ay ipinangako niya na kung paano siyang minamahal ng mga taga Batangas ay higit pa run ang pagmamahal at pagsiserbisyong ibibigay niya sa kanyang mga kababayan. “Nakakahiya naman siguro kung alam mong mahal ka ng mga tao at sinusuportahan tapos wala kang gagawin sa kanila, ‘ay hindi naman siguro puwede ang ganun., Bilang Gobernadora ng bayang ito nais kong ipakita sa kanila at ipadama na rin na ako ay karapat-dapat sa pagtitiwalang ibinigay nila sa akin kung kayat marami pa rin akong magagandang plano sa Batangas, At hindi ko ito basta magagawang mag-isa kung hindi nila ako tutulungan.” Maraming wish si Ate Vi pero hindi para sa pansarili kundi para sa bayan at isa dito ay ang kasaganahan at katahimikan hindi lang ng buong lalawigan ng Batangas kundi nang buong bansa…” – Morly Alinio (READ MORE)

“…This begs the question: should we expect this kind of progressive view on homosexuality from the mainstream in general and In My Life in particular? Perhaps not. In an industry dominated by conservative values—rooted in the ideal economic feasibility of a G-rated film—In My Life’s gay publicity is simply a ruse, the film’s bid to package itself as daring and sensitive, as is fitting for the Star of All Seasons. Vilma Santos’s comeback cannot be centered on anything but her. The film must project Vilma as a daring actress (and liberal-minded politician) willing to tackle controversial roles, while maintaining her palatable sensitivity as the ordinary matriarch of Anak and Dekada ’70 fame. In My Life, then, is ultimately a film about mothers. Though packaged as a queer film, it is actually a family movie, the much-publicized homosexual angle between Cruz and Manzano just one of the many issues mothers like Shirley have to deal with in these times…” – Edgar Allan Paule, Viewer Discretion, 14 Oct 2009 (READ MORE)

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