Review: Joyce Bernal's OF ALL THE THINGS

Of All the Things has director Joyce Bernal reunite with Aga Muhlach and Regine Velasquez, who, once upon a time, graced her films like Dahil May Isang Ikaw (Because There's Just You, 1999) and Pangako... Ikaw Lang (Promise... Just You, 2001) as perfect lovers. Muhlach and Velasquez have considerably aged since their last pairing, lending the characters they portray in Of All the Things a certain semblance of cynicism, frustration and desperation in both love and life. In a sense, Of All the Things, without straying too far from the overused formula of local rom-coms, infuses the genre with some sort of sobriety that supposedly comes with maturity, at least in age. That is not to say that Of All the Things is a sad and depressing picture with aging singles moping about their lack of life and love. It is not. It is as spritely and bubbly as any other rom-com, true to the genre's escapist intentions.

Muhlach plays Umboy, a bar flunker who now drafts and notarizes documents along the crowded sidewalks surrounding the city hall. Velasquez plays Berns, a professional fixer who finds herself in a legal spat with a shrewd contractor, forcing her to employ Umboy to represent her in an informal meeting. Umboy and Berns eventually join forces, with Berns using her various connections to land Umboy a job that will make it easier for Berns to facilitate her many transactions. They inevitably fall in love with each other, with only their specific lots in life and their differences in morality and integrity playing hindrances to their fated love affair.

The romance is admittedly a bit of a bore, plotted lazily within the conventions of the genre. What makes the love story somewhat interesting is the suggestion that love was never really planned in the two would-be lovers' lives. Unlike the idealistic and hormone-driven teens and yuppies of most conventional rom-coms, Umboy and Berns have their hearts' desires as the least of their priorities. The so-called chemistry isn't carefully developed through the narrative. It just happens, like a sudden nudge by their biological clocks, reminding them that their romantic and sexual urges are soon to expire and that they have to make up, kiss, and get married if they still want to be productive in the reproductive department.

It is essentially a love story between losers, between a professional failure who has resigned himself to be consistently reminded of his nagging incapacities by being a mere notary public and a chronic social climber who hides her insecurities through the connections she has established through her desperate friendliness. The fact that they are to participate in an affair that is usually reserved for the young and promising despite their age merely multiplies the pitifulness of the lives they are living. They are pathetic participants in a society where professional titles, political power, and branded purses are essential symbols of status and success. They are the underdogs that are so easy to love and root for, and the happiness they are to predictably achieve through the machinations of Mel Mendoza-del Rosario's screenplay feels very well-deserved.

There's an unusual but lovely tenderness in the way Bernal portrays the domestic lives of her beloved losers. Amidst the requisite jokes and wit that flavor the romance, the underlying drama of disappointed parents and shamed children is quietly beautiful. Tommy Abuel, playing Umboy's father, a retired law professor who now reviews law graduates for the bar examinations, injects his character with nuances that add layers to the fragile father-son relationship. The vague disappointment and shame that define the relationship between Umboy and his father that is specific to a family conscious of the prestige of professional titles are mostly relegated to the background and whispered. Bernal paints Berns' familial concerns similarly, draping the insecurities of Bern's ex-beauty queen mother, played animatedly by Gina Pareño, with humorous histrionics.

Of All the Things clearly struggles in pacing a love story within the context of the very specific culture of hopeful bar examinees and fixers who slyly reduce bureaucratic red tape for a fee. However, the way in which Bernal and Mendoza-del Rosario depicted what could have been sordid and taxing milieu with just the right amount of levity is quite an achievement. The film is consistently delightful, which is enough considering that the film's most blatant goal is to merely entertain. That it manages to achieve more in the way it paints a realistic and relatable portrait of parents living through the failures and successes of their children is noteworthy.

(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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  • Fc

    Good review.. love the way it tackles the film's relevance.

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