Primed as a film that aims to celebrate the modern Filipina, "Desperadas" tries to go for a cross between "Sex and the City" and the highly antagonized "Desperate Housewives," but never achieving more than intersecting glamor shots that function more as fashion spreads than a true satire. The four young women who play the high class dolls are beautiful and buoyant and they have enough wattage to light up the production, even though their characters never resemble fully realized personalities.
But strangely, this Metro Manila Film Fest (MMFF) movie is emotionally inert and strident. In the hands of director Joel Lamangan, who's not really known as a filmmaker of emotional subtlety, it isn't even a movie so much as an extended soap opera filled with distracting score, sloppy editing, and excessively camera-conscious mise-en-scene.
Fashionista Isabella (Ruffa Gutierrez), sex-guru Patricia (Rufa Mae Quinto), lawyer Stephanie (Iza Calzado), and underwear designer Courtney (Marian Rivera) are half-sisters who live in the same posh compound. Born of the same mother but of different fathers, the film follows these four women as they go about with their respective problems.
Isabella is having commitment issues with a mutual friend Vito (Jay-R), and her financial stability is on the rocks. Patricia's dominating ways threaten her marriage and, as with nearly all Lamangan movies, her husband's (Wendell Ramos) masculinity is put into question. Stephanie and her husband (TJ Trinidad) can't bear a child and a potential extramarital affair looms between her and another lawyer (Ryan Eigenmann). And Courtney is confused by her recently born again fiancé (Will Devaughn) who won't share her earthly urges until they get married. Call it a Pinay PG-rated "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."
Like the sort of fare directed to readers of a classy magazine, "Desperadas" is shallow, garish and formulaic, built on the template of conflicts from self-help articles. As such, it has been given a brash, vibrant look that does assault the eye. Still, the script's message is obviously on finding love and romance beyond all the glimmer and glamor, yet it easily trumps that with muddled morals where one character is fine with domestic partnership and another values the sanctity of matrimonial sex. Such ambivalence leads to a highly uneven experience.
The girls, particularly Quinto, can be hilarious in an intentionally exaggerated way, but towards the end it's just, well, too much. Calzado proves further her effectiveness as an actor despite the inferior material she's tasked with. Rivera does have her moments but her youthful look sticks like a sore thumb to her way more mature counterparts. Gutierrez has nothing much to do except be herself.
Surely, towards the end, everyone learns their lessons and conflicts will be resolved. But it takes way too long to get there. With such obvious resolutions, "Desperadas" probably could have used a shorter running time (although Lamangan isn't one to go for "deleted scenes"). That said, you may want to stick around before the end credits for some advocacy on breast cancer, which while in itself is well and good, feels so out of place of the whole film (it could have been a separate ad that precedes the film). But it only further affirms the film's leanings toward looking - and feeling - like a lifestyle magazine.
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