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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A script that fails My Househusband

 January 4, 2012 1:50pm
Full disclosure: I’m a Judy Ann Santos fan / freak. Hers is the first scholarly iconography I presented in an international conference, the first I got published in an international journal, and I cannot for the life of me get over the manner in which her real life has come to be intricately intertwined with her roles on TV and in film.
This is central to the fact of Jose Javier Reyes writing and directing the past two Judy Ann and Ryan Agoncillo films, where the couple played roles that might have been ahead of their real-life relationship but which still made for fictions that melded seamlessly with the real.
Ah but what happens when fiction is the point, removed from the real life personas of Judy Ann and Ryan? My Househusband – Ikaw Na! had fiction written all over it, had Judy Ann actually performing as expected in a light comedy and revealed Ryan to finally be comfortable in acting, yet it totally failed as a movie about current times. That it might have discussed and changed perceptions about marriage and the roles husbands and wives play within it, makes this failure bigger than just this film being a disappointing one.

There is no other way to watch this film but to trudge through it, with the heaviest of feet, wondering when some of the weight might come off. Because from beginning to end, My Househusband survived on one note. That is, that one note of a light drama that was undecided about how far or how deep it could go into the issues it presented. That is, that one note of simplistically dealing with issues that were bigger and more relevant than just who its lead actors are, Eugene Domingo included.
From company mergers rendering employees as sacrificial lambs to the difficulty of finding a job mid-career, from living in such close quarters with nosy neighbors to the layers of Pinoy macho ideology that riddles our everyday lives in this country, Javier Reyes and co-writer Mel del Rosario worked with premises that could’ve driven this story into becoming a real reflection of the times. Yet instead of doing so, My Househusband stopped short of being a realistic portrayal of this marital crisis, refused altogether to reveal how Rod struggled with his new house-husband role, and how Mia and their kids dealt with the shift in roles.
It’s easy to see that all these dilemmas would’ve been fodder for comedy. Yet there’s none of that here. Instead, this movie treats the audience to the most superficial of portrayals, showing Rod getting into the groove of cleaning house and cooking for the kids in one fell swoop of a montage of images (complete with some music, of course). It is here that the character of Aida (Domingo) as neighbor comes in and provides nothing but the comedy that apparently they thought this movie needed to survive. Of course in the end this movie could’ve done without Aida altogether, functioning as she did as nothing but the conscience of both Rod and Mia – a conscience they didn’t need were they allowed to just have a conversation like real-life married couples are supposed to have.
And there is the crux of this movie’s failing: this husband and wife do not talk to each other. Which doesn’t make sense, because at less crucial moments in the movie they are talking on the phone and having meals together. Yet, about the more important things, there is no conversation between Rod and Mia. No acknowledgment even of the shift in roles and how difficult the adjustment is for Rod, no continued conversation about finances as if Mia’s job was just perfectly enough a replacement for the one Rod lost, no sense in fact that husband and wife were even dealing with a financial crisis in their hands.
Because not once do they talk about money again, not after it is established that they need 50,000 pesos a month to sustain their lifestyle. In fact the only time you realize that money is even a problem is when their youngest son gets sick and Rod couldn’t bring him to the hospital with all of 50 pesos in his wallet. And while it’s believable that he wouldn’t have a credit card, no joint account between husband and wife is too much of a stretch. That the one who tends to house and home is left without any cash at all – not even for emergencies? – is the failure of realistic storytelling.
But this failure is bigger than just storytelling given what it is that My Househusband begins to discuss but fails to see through to a more intelligent, if not logical, end. Its failure is one that begins and ends with the fact of social class, even as it is clearly what has brought on this marital and familial crisis. Its failure is in the fact that every question it raises is swept away into a narrative where everything is simplistically solved by the voice on an outsider, and the two lead characters resolve issues on their own, in their heads, with no conversations to be had.
It would be kind to think this a fluke in the grand body of work Javier Reyes himself reminds us he has. But in fact, if you watch much of what he’s written recently, none of them are extraordinary or brilliant, and even in this niche of doing light drama films, it does seem like Javier Reyes is becoming less and less credible as a storyteller of the conditions of the times. In My Househusband there is a clear refusal to deal with the intricacies and nuances a financial crisis demand of a story about marriage. And so it ends with Rod telling Mia she can continue working even as he himself has found a job, everyone’s happy and the household has more money, nothing has changed in the status quo of machismo and double standard that exists in this marriage – and in this country.
The only thing worse than a simple story is one where complexity and difficulty are portrayed as nothing but easy to resolve. That My Househusband is a film that talks about issues crucial to current discourses on patriarchy and the woman’s place beyond the home, can only make this mistake of simplification a most dangerous one to make. – YA, GMA News

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