Jose Javier Reyes' "One Night Only" unfortunately appears at first glance like nothing more than a sleazy film banking on the sex appeal of its stars to draw in the presumably testosterone-driven crowd as sort of counter-programming to the more popular entries of the ongoing 34th Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). Reyes, author and auteur of arguably the best entries the past two MMFF's, abandons the glamorous married life to tackle more liberated views on sex, relationships and... sex.
Surprisingly (or maybe because I wasn't expecting much to begin with), "One Night Only" trots off gleefully, leaving one with a warm and fuzzy feeling, laughing even if you know you shouldn't, feeling a bit filthy yet liking it nevertheless. It's a glibly made comedy that abounds with Reyes-esquire sharp lines and clever twists about relationships and the intertwining lives of strangers (or so they seem... at first). Murakami it ain't, but what it lacks in highbrow intellectual propensity, it deftly makes up for with its genuinely humorous moments and breezy performances.
"One Night Only" is the story of several seemingly unrelated characters brought together in a seedy motel one night by a rash of events. There's Congressman Facundo (Ricky Davao), who checks in the motel with her young lover girl Jasmine (Katrina Halili) before she flies to Macau the same night; movie actor Diego (Paolo Contis) who stops by with an innocent cast member Angela (Alessandra da Rossi) for a quickie before going to a shoot in Tagaytay; Pons (Jon Avila) who unwittingly brings two women - Vicki (Valerie Concepcion) and Vivian (Diana Zubiri) - into the same motel; Nestor (Joross Gamboa) who's out to settle an "obligation" with his gay lover Edward (Chokoleit); and lesbian couple Elvie (Jennylyn Mercado) and George (Manilyn Reynes).
Each character arc, viewed on its own terms, is so conventional and one-keyed it wouldn't warrant a full-length running time that the initially jarring multi-narrative technique employed sometimes feels like a gimmick to throw in as much variations on a theme as possible. But then starts unfolding beneath are subplots regarding dead bodies, nosy reporters, and homophobic motels. But underneath the film's scruffy facade is a narrative more clever than what it first suggests, thanks not only to Reyes' witty script and skillful orchestration, but also to the inspired performances of those involved. One memorable turn is that of da Rossi who subtly crescendos her helpless character to its "awakening" towards the end.
It's not to say it's great cinema, least of all perfect; such a highly ambitious plot and a large cast is sure to have its faults, namely reducing its characters to one-note sketches in order to cram as much of their (mis)adventures as possible in such a limited time. But "One Night Only" delivers in such a pleasantly unexpected way in a time when, as clichéd as it had started to sound, box office returns reign supreme. Who are we to say whether this film wasn't produced solely for capitalistic reasons, but hey, at least this feels like a nice surprise unwrapped in time for the holidays.
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