Cineastes versus the masses: a defense of My Little Bossings

We're on the last days of the Metro Manila Film Festival, that time of the year when all cinemas are obligated to screen locally-made films. If you've been waiting for, say, the chance to see Inside Llewin Davis actually projected on a silver-painted wall, well, you will have to wait, because now's the time for us to watch what our local filmmakers can do.

This year, that happens to be, well, a quirky comedy that's past its welcome, a horror film which a friend describes as "80% romantic comedy", a couple of biopics (emphasis on "pic"), and, once again, Vic Sotto.

Ah, My Little Bossings: the movie every film lover hates this year. Or at least that's what I get when I check my Facebook feed. The reviews I've seen of the film aren't exactly complimentary. Of course they wouldn't be. At first glance it isn't really a film built for substance. It's built to earn money, on the back of child wonder Ryzza Mae Dizon, and perhaps the endless promotion on Eat Bulaga! Critics have pointed out every fault possible, from the story (or lack thereof) to more existential ones. And many on my Facebook feed have shared those reviews with a sneer on their faces. "I can't believe the masses are wasting their money on this film," a relative of mine wrote.

I was watching Eat Bulaga! yesterday and Vic was celebrating a milestone: the film has broken every local box office record, they say, earning at least P350 million after a week or so. (Well, they also celebrated Ryzza Mae Aquino, err, Dizon winning an acting award, but that was mostly an afterthought.) Elsewhere, those who count themselves out as part of the masses continue to sneer. It's always been like this every year, really. The Metro Manila Film Festival rolls along, and there's always a lot of moaning about the lack of "quality" films.

To be fair to them, this is a valid complaint, albeit one that is not limited to the MMFF: film producers tend to be formulaic when it comes to their projects, which can often be categorized nowadays into "very quotable romantic comedy" or "edgy, vaguely adult comedy" or "melodramatic, well, drama". Every once in a while, a film that's sufficiently different rolls along and captures the imagination, the number of which steadily climbs every year: last year we had, to name just two, Transit and On The Job, both proclaimed as saviors of a complacent industry.

As for the MMFF, there occasionally are projects that try to buck the preference for box-office hits, or at the very least, balance commercial and critical needs nicely. I'm thinking of Cesar Montano's films in the late 1990s. I'm thinking of the pleasant Aishite Masu 1941. I'm think even of Manila Kingpin, a first attempt at a period piece that suffered from (very jarring) inconsistencies, but didn't deter E.R. Ejercito from trying again, like in this year's Boy Golden. But for the most part - perhaps because of the decision to move the festival to the Christmas season - it's unimaginative fare designed to earn money, and lots of it.

And that's why I'm a bit annoyed by all the sneering. I mean, really. What else did you expect from My Little Bossings?

Now, I have to admit a couple of things: I have not seen My Little Bossings. I have not seen any of the movies from this crop of MMFF participants. I'm not interested in KathNiel, nor in E.R. Ejercito kissing KC Concepcion. I just don't feel it's worth my money. You can say I'm one of those sneering so-called film lovers, just a couple of steps away from calling myself a cineaste. But I like Ryzza Mae; I think she's a talented, quick-witted young girl, although I do think she is stretching herself too thin. I would probably watch her film when it comes on television, even if I don't like the way Bimby Aquino was parachuted in here for no reason other than he's in television commercials with her mom, who happens to produce the film as well.

So, yes, I will admit, even if I shouldn't, that I am not in a position to write about arguably the highest-grossing Filipino film of the year, if not ever. But again, what else did you expect? This is a Vic Sotto film. This is light entertainment backed by a huge, ubiquitous marketing machine. This is perhaps a cynical attempt at cashing in on a little girl's rising star. But this is light entertainment. It may be flimsy, but they did not produce the film to satisfy the deepest desires of a bunch of snobs who secretly want to see, say, Jillian Ward articulate the nuances of being the only child in a deeply impoverished family in the aftermath of Ondoy.

Tito Sotto may not be the most reliable person to quote considering not-so-recent events, but something he said in yesterday's Eat Bulaga! celebration sums it all up. "Ang Pasko ay para sa mga bata," he said.

That said, there certainly is nothing wrong with asking, if not demanding, a higher standard for local films - well, local media productions, really, from television to radio, from music to stage, from print and back again. The formulaic has a place in our creative ecosystem, but it is ultimately a lazy option. If we aim for this and that, well, we might not get a return, you'd usually hear. They're sophisticated and they have access to more things, so why compete with those things? Let's just do what we do best. The formulaic is, however, a slice of the pie that's slowly shrinking, as the more imaginative efforts slowly creep in and capture those who haven't had their epiphany, or epiphanies, yet.

And there is certainly a place for a debate on what is the extent of the utterly commercial and the utterly challenging, and how to find a compromise between the two. I think everybody is slowly realizing this: that you cannot slavishly stick to formulas, no matter how tired they are; that "cutting edge" isn't slapping a vaguely relevant premise to what is essentially a soap opera; that we are not idiots, whether our idea of entertainment is Vice Ganda or Kerry Washington. The keyword, however, is slowly: this is a long process, and it will feel hopeless, but it is happening. The buzz surrounding On The Job, after all, wasn't limited to hipsters happy that it's a fucking brilliant Filipino film, or jejemons who like anything Gerald Anderson does.

The reaction to My Little Bossings, however, is generally me proclaiming my tastes are better than yours, me imposing my better tastes to you, me asserting my cultural supremacy over you. But admit it, you probably like Ryzza, too, especially when she has Aussie comedians over as guests. Maybe soon she'll tackle the perils of being so famous, so quickly, so early in her life. Maybe that will impress you. 2014 Metro Manila Film Festival. Watch out for it.

And your responses...

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