What are the movies that come to mind when we talk about Pinoy comedies? Well, you can probably mention the Dolphy and Panchito classics from yesteryear or the countless variations of Enteng Kabisote that comes out every Christmas. (Whether we like it or not, it's probably only a matter of time before they do an Enteng Kabisote-Praybeyt Benjamin mash up for the Metro Manila Filmfest.) There are also the romantic comedies that audiences can't seem to get enough of. Our comedy films, for the most part, have been either slapstick, low-brow humor, cheese, or a mixture of all of them. Even the witty Kimmy Dora comedies make use of a lot of slapstick and physical comedy to make audiences laugh.
Dark comedies on the other hand are practically unheard of in Philippine cinema and something that the genre is sorely lacking. I'm sure the Vice Ganda movies are funny to a lot of people. But times are changing and you can only poke fun at a person's gender and how they look like for so long. Fortunately for audiences, every once in a while there comes a movie like Mercury is Mine from writer-director Jason Paul Laxamana to shake things up a bit. Mercury is Mine is an entry at this year's Cinemalaya Film Festival and it stars funnywoman Pokwang and American actor Bret Jackson.
Pokwang plays the role of Carmen, a woman who owns a cafeteria at the foot of Mt. Arayat. To keep herself entertained while she waits for the occasional customer, she pretends to host her own cooking show while she talks to a pig's head. Her mundane life is thrown upside down when an injured white American teenager named Mercury (Bret Jackson) shows up outside her cafeteria asking for help. In return for food and shelter, he offers to help Carmen out as a waiter in her cafeteria. Who he is and where he comes from is something that audiences will have to discover for themselves.
Carmen puts a towel on Mercury's back the same way
a mother would yet fantasizes about him as well
As the story unfolds, we get to see Carmen and Mercury develop a relationship with one another. But exactly what their relationship is goes undefined because even they themselves don't know what they are. Mother and child? Sweethearts? Yaya and alaga? They seem to be a combination of all of them. Carmen takes care of Mercury just as a mother would, but at one point would also ask him quite bluntly if he'd sleep with her if her skin was lighter. She'd quickly follow it with "dyok only" that is typical of Pinoy humor.
The movie has plenty of laugh out loud moments with a humor that will appeal to the masses as well as those who fancy themselves as sophisticated. Credit of course goes to Laxamana's clever writing but it was Pokwang's great comedic timing as well as her acting chops that brought Carmen to life. She's hilarious in this movie and delivers most of its funny moments but it was also a revelation to see her shift to dramatic scenes with the same ease.
Carmen speaks in broken English, but it never seems like a parody of how Pinoys speak and that's in large part due to Pokwang's portrayal. In fact, I can't think of anyone better suited for the role of Carmen other than Pokwang. Bret Jackson was able to flex his acting muscles as well as a good-natured American teenager with an air of mystery about him. Audiences can practically see the chemistry between the two stars develop over time despite their unlikely pairing.
This proudly Kapampangan production is also able to shed light on our culture of being in awe with anything foreign. Carmen's cafeteria instantly becomes a hit when news of a Justin Bieber-slash-Zac Efron-looking teenager is serving customers their food and drinks, with a lot of them even asking for a selfie after they're done with their meal. Carmen herself, with her dreams of being in showbiz and her obsession with the movie Blue Lagoon, is enamored with Mercury despite his young age and questionable background.
Carmen and Mercury as they play act a cooking
show in front of their audience: a pig's heads
The movie highlights how we as Filipinos tend to have a double standard when it comes to foreigners, especially Westerners. We look up to them and pay them extra attention, but also take advantage of them when we can. We've all heard these stories. Taxi drivers acting all gracious and accommodating only to charge the foreign tourist P1,000 for a fare that should only be P150. These elements are explored all throughout the movie and allows for a little bit of introspection.
Though the movie can get very funny at times, it takes the audience to very dark places as well when it wants to. Just when you think you know what the movie is all about, it throws a curve ball right at you reminiscent of how Woody Allen would do in some of his films. This effective transition from comedy to tragedy is what makes Mercury is Mine go from being just a funny film to a memorable one.
8/10. This hilarious but socially relevant dark comedy is definitely one of the must-see movies at this year's Cinemalaya. It shows us what a Filipino production can do when it goes beyond the norms of its chosen genre.
Rey de la Cruz Jr. likes talking about films as much as he likes watching them. He runs www.reyview.org, a site that provides Filipino moviegoers with reviews written in a voice that is uniquely Pinoy.