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Overstuffed and undernourished
badidosh31 December 2007
The promotional materials of Regal Films' "Bahay Kubo" (literally "Nipa Hut") herald it as a "Pinoy Mano Po". But any resemblance between this Maricel Soriano-starrer and those series of faux Fil-Chinese films which overstayed their welcome at five installments ends with producer Lily Monteverde and the same melodrama that offers nothing more but improbable situations with superficial conflicts capped by overly manipulated resolutions.

This 2007 Metro Manila Film Festival entry directed by Joel Lamangan follows the story of Eden (Soriano), a woman from the province who makes a living out of gardening. She is tasked to take care of six orphaned children, even as she and her husband (Eric Quizon), give birth to their only biological daughter (Shaina Magdayao). Initially riding on a euphoric state, the erstwhile happy family starts to run out of luck upon transferring to their new home in Manila. Real mothers start popping out to claim what is rightfully theirs, and children start behaving badly. In addition, their father has been involved in a business misfortune which threatens the financial status of the family.

What ensues is less a study of a family than a padded collection of problems, which appear to be assembled from other films, tossed together perfunctorily. The character motivations feel forced as all the recognizable elements there seem to be cobbled from all family film templates the writers could ever think of: the eldest who's the ideal daughter (Marian Rivera), the simpleton daughter who's greatest dream is to be a showbiz celebrity (Yasmien Kurdi), and the real daughter who's hungry for attention (Shaina Magdayao). There's even a thorn among the roses (Jiro Manio), named Junior, just because he's the only guy in the family outside of the father. The rest of the children throw a couple of lines and get some dramatic moments, but they are so generic you'd hardly notice them pass by.

The best thing that can be said of the film is Soriano's charm, who proves in "Inang Yaya" her versatility as an actress. Here, no thanks to an uninspired direction by Lamangan, her character is reduced to a mere caricature. Wildly uneven and terribly paced, the comedic moments don't work as often as they should (even Eugene Domingo, who so often becomes the life of lifeless movies, don't get much laughs here) and the dramatic moments are so manipulative they fall flat. The love angle between Rivera and Mark Herras is all but one of the many subplots of the film, which while in itself is a distracting element of the film, is a nice excuse to see more of her when things get a little too boring.

As the prefabricated conflicts and unenthusiastic proceedings are solved with a "Silent Night" and some Hallmark-inspired speeches, "Bahay Kubo" becomes an overfamiliar and unimaginative film that feels like nothing more than an overstuffed episode of a TV series, without the humor and the drama.
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