May 3, 2016
The heated national elections are already set on Monday next week. The news is filled with news about all the candidates, both positive (from their camp) and negative (from opposing camps). Director Quark Henares tackles a romantic comedy with a political flavor obvious from its title -- "My Candidate."
Sonny Suarez (Derek Ramsay) is a rare breed of congressman who really seriously worked with and for his constituents. As a promise to his father on his deathbed, Sonny reluctantly agreed to throw his hat in the race for Senator. However, while he is good-looking and had a clean reputation, he was a socially-inept. He lacked the personality and charisma needed to launch a successful national campaign.
His overeager chief of staff Coco Mikael (Nico Antonio) hired popular communications coach Billie Pono (Shaina Magdayao) to make Sonny over in order to make him more appealing to the voters by making more effective speeches in public. It did not help that his closest rival for that last Senate slot just so happened to be his ex-girlfriend Congresswoman Vera Sanchez (Iza Calzado).
Honestly the story felt very familiar to me. With Derek Ramsay also starring as the "student" being trained by a ditsy "trainer" who had a problematic private life of her own, "My Candidate" seemed to be a retooling of the plot of the very successful Metro Manila Filmfest 2014 2nd Best Picture winner "English Only Please." Only now, Shaina Magdayao takes over the teacher role from Jennylyn Mercado.
I was hoping that it would go more for the political angle as it was the unique selling factor in this film. While watching the first half, I thought I was going to see a "Our Brand is Crisis"-type story set in the colorful Filipino electoral circus. Ultimately though, it focused more on the rom-com scenes in the second half, which I found rather distracting to the light-hearted yet sensibly effective socio-political commentary this movie was making.
Of course, it was not that easy to believe that the epitome of Filipino macho-hood Derek Ramsey would be lacking in self-confidence. He had to convince us that his character was such, as he was actually quite successful doing so. In those scenes where he was learning to let go and dance, Ramsey looked as if he was absolutely uncomfortable with what he was doing, which fortunately translated very well as a geeky lack of confidence.
This film is supposedly Shaina Magdayao's first rom-com, and she delivered very charmingly with her erratic character Billie. She came across better in the dramatic parts than the comedy parts, which I guess was not really her comfort zone. I just wished they did not have to make Billie strike all those which hip-hop moves did not look very natural on the demure Ms. Magdayao. I also did not like those tattoos she was made to sport on her arms. Despite being the lead character, we do not know much about Billie. We see Al Tantay's name apparently as Billie's dad, but I do not even recall seeing him onscreen.
Iza Calzado made the most of her smaller role, shining most in that political ad video of her character which was hilarious. Nico Antonio is scene-stealing as Coco in this familiar effeminate persona of his. His sidekicks, Adonis (Jay Ignacio) and Marga (Happy Ferraren), were equally scene-stealing albeit not necessarily funny. Ketchup Eusebio, playing Billie's scandalous friend Jofer, was overused. He overstayed already after his role in the beginning. Ricci Chan and Jun Sabayton, playing a couple of bitchy showbiz TV reporters, were misused and underused. The critical role of the press could have been developed more.
The light satire approach it employed was alright actually, as it did not really have to be so hard-hitting or serious to get its message across. I felt "My Candidate" could have been more interesting if the filmmakers decided to explore the local election culture more. This film was good when it was about the election and politics (though they only scratched the surface), but it became generic when it was about the individual characters. The romance part (which was not really necessary) could have been just a minor side-issue at the very end maybe if they really wanted it to end that way. Well, it is a rom-com first after all. 5/10.