Comedy, Films, Philippines, Recommended posts, Reviews

The Gifted

4.5 stars

Philippines 2014. Directed by Chris Martinez. Starring Anne Curtis, Cristine Reyes, Sam Milby, Candy Pangilinan, Dominic Ochoa, Arlene Muhlach, Ricky Rivero. 121 mins. In English and Tagalog with English subtitles.

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Chris Martinez’s outrageously funny but sharply smart deconstruction of the rom-com…

Not just outrageously silly and fun, but also smart play on rom-com clichés with a social comment, it’s hard not to immediately fall in love with Chris Martinez’s (Here Comes The Bride, Status: It’s Complicated) ingenious comedy about two ugly ducking super-smart friends who turn from ‘besties’ to ‘worsties’, and the man who comes between them – played by massive Filipino stars Anne Curtis (No Other Woman, Babe, I Love You, A Secret Affair), Cristine Reyes (No Other Woman, El Presidente) and Sam Milby (Death March, Four Sisters and a Wedding, Babe, I Love You) respectively.

As The Gifted begins, author Marco Yuzon (Milby) reads out highlights from his latest novel at a book launch, understandably making his audience swoon. He tells of two young schoolgirls from very different social backgrounds, the rich and overweight Zoe Tuazon, and poor Aica Tabayoyong, bespectacled, achned and goofy toothed. Thrown together in a Catholic school, the pair soon find they have much in common – both abnormally intelligent and ostracised by their piers – and become firm friends. They develop a penchant for gloriously homemade W. Heath Robinson-esque devices that deliver, very slowly, their revenge on anyone that crosses them.

Their friendship continues as teenagers, until the honour of being the one named Valedictorian in their final year of high school proves too big to ignore: for Zoe (Curtis) it’s the chance to go to her chosen school; for Aica (Reyes) it’s the chance to get a scholarship for an education her parents cannot afford. It’s then that Zoe hatches a plan to use new boy Mark (Milby) to seduce Aica so that her scores drop, which ultimately rips their friendship apart.

Years later, both have transformed from the ugly ducklings they once were, thanks to reconstructive plastic surgery. Zoe is a neuroscientist with model good looks; Aica is a mathematics genius that runs a programme for children sponsored by a shampoo she advertises (as shown in a wonderful parody). But as a school reunion threatens to bring them back together, we find Zoe still has an axe to grind (or should that be shotgun to fire?). With Zoe once again using Mark to get her revenge on Aica, when he starts to actually fall for her for real the gloves most definitely come off.

Martinez’s script ripples with layers of vibrant comedy and comment, from broad jokes to great one-liners, from social lines between rich and poor in the Philippines to breaking the boundaries of a rom-com. His target may be formulaic comedies in the Philippines, but it could just as well America. The slick style, snappy dialogue and good pacing give this film a feel of bright teen comedies like Heathers, Drop Dead Gorgeous or Easy A, and much of the film is even in English, with the Aica character notably using more Tagalog.

Indeed, the differences between the two from their respective classes are hardly subtle. Aica is kind hearted and warm; Zoe cold and merciless, and thinks she can buy anything she wants. It obvious Anne Curtis and Cristine Reyes have a lot of fun in their roles, and quite obviously more so when either under a fat suit, or piles of acne and thick glasses respectively. The performances of Abby Bautista and Alliya Fatima dela Riva as their younger counterparts are quite wonderful too.

If the film leads towards a conclusion that seems too over the top even for such an outrageous comedy, it’s the final scene that plays just as the credits begin to roll that stands as the films real strength. Reminding us this is a story within a story, it pulls the rug from under our feet. It corrects a failing in so many ‘ugly duckling’ comedies, such as the Korean box office hit 200 Pounds Beauty, that struggle to tell us we should love ourselves for who we are, while still playing to our obsessions of beauty; also poking the very male standpoint of so many romantic comedies that they be fought over by these beautiful women fairly in the eye.

Crowd-pleasing comedy with real intelligence behind it, The Gifted is simply a joy to watch, but will make you question the clichés of the genre long after.

The Gifted screened at the 2015 Udine Far East Film Festival, which ran from 23 April to 2 May 2015.

About the author

Andrew Heskins
Founder of easternKicks.com, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »
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