Review: Magkaibigan (1/5)

PEP Review: Magkaibigan
by Fidel Antonio Medel

Taking its inspiration from the untimely death of Rudy Fernandez, “Magkaibigan” chronicles the last days of Atoy (Christopher De Leon) – his bouts with cancer and how he was eventually claimed by the sickness. This Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entry is a story of friendship, family, and loss. Despite the despondent condition of Atoy, his family and closest friends stood beside him to give him hope and shower him with faith.

Atoy and Ben (Jinggoy Estrada) are the best of friends. Although the film did not bother to trace the beginnings of their one-of-a-kind friendship, its present-day manifestation is clearly illustrated in the way Atoy’s family is accepted into Ben’s and vice versa. Their families are closer to each other than to their own relatives. Atoy and Ben do not only talk about trivial matters over bottles of beer, but share personal problems and family conflicts with the confidence akin to real brothers.

They also understand each other’s character to the letter. When Ben resigned and couldn’t land himself a job where he isn’t overqualified or overage, Atoy came to the rescue to save his friend in distress. But Ben is not the type who would be thankful to such generosity. In fact, he would even take it against Atoy for trampling his ego underfoot. Knowing that his friend’s pride could get in the way, Atoy helped him without him knowing.

The screenplay of “Magkaibigan” is blessed with a natural ability to borrow dialogues from real life and use them as its own. It is as if you are watching yourself or someone you know throwing these familiar lines. However, this slice-of-life treatment in the first act is undermined by how the second act spirals down into theatrical dramaturgy. The subtlety I admired in the beginning of the film is replaced by soap opera-inspired sappiness. The dramatic sequences feel staged and artificial. I know exactly when the somber piano music will play and when the characters will break out into tears. We’ve seen this a countless time in the cinema and boob tube. Unfortunately, “Magkaibigan” doesn’t have anything new to offer.

Although great effort is exerted on character development (which is extremely important for dramas so that the audience could empathize with what the characters are going through), the script is guilty of the “show, don’t tell” syndrome. Instead of exemplifying the character’s traits through their actions, the film takes the most convenient route of getting its point across through the narrative device, the omniscient voice-over. When the narrator says that Atoy is hesitant to share his problems with others no matter how grave it is, isn’t it better if the film just shows the scenes where Atoy finds out about his sickness but doesn’t tell anyone about it, instead of having the narrator do all the work? What “Magkaibigan” has done is pure laziness.

“Magkaibigan” has the makings of an effective drama, but it haplessly fell into the same trap that held other movies of the genre back. If only it could have used the same subtlety employed in Chris Martinez’s “100”. Dramas don’t need to go full blast on the emotions all the time, a little restraint could certainly go a long way. Due to the pretensions of the material, the film winds up being anti-climactic, predictable, and mediocre at best.

* published in Philippine Entertainment Portal


Spanky Solomon said...

Is Rudy Fenandez's death, "untimely"? =)

Fidel Antonio Medel said...

I believe all deaths are untimely, no matter what the cause is.

Spanky Solomon said...

ooohhh...touche. hehe =)
nice blog though. your reviews are my movie guides.

Fidel Antonio Medel said...

Ha ha.. Thanks. Still trying to keep it all together. Enjoy reading.


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