Movie Review: The Significant Other Gets Too Caught Up in the Tropes of Infidelity Dramas to Work

TL;DR: The Significant Other is a bland infidelity drama that wastes a novel idea, by focusing how the infidelity happened, instead of why it happened.

I wouldn’t begrudge anyone rolling their eyes if they found out The Significant Other is released. Melodramas focused on infidelity have already reached a point of exhaustion, & it looks plain compared to the stylish & trashy Sin Island; which was just released last week by the same studio. But The Significant Other has a nugget of an idea that can make it stand out, if only it wasn’t executed so poorly.

Nicole (Erich Gonzales) is at a beauty pageant when she was scouted by a prominent head of a modeling agency in Metro Manila. She’s delighted, because she aspires to be a famous fashion model just like her idol Maxine (Lovi Poe) & the man who contacted her trained & mentored Maxine. She decides to pursue the opportunity, but her recruiter requests that she visit the cosmetic surgeon Edward (Tom Rodriguez) in order to remove the birthmark in her neck. It’s obvious both are attracted to each other, & soon both of them are in love. But unbeknownst to her, Edward is actually married to Maxine. Maxine disappeared in the public eye for years & raised their son in America. She purposefully hid her marriage to have a quiet life with her family & has no plans to reveal it now that she’s staging a comeback in order to keep the media’s focus on her career. While she’s back at work, she is also in charge of mentoring Nicole to become a successful fashion model like herself. They form a close bond that’s threatened by Maxine’s secret & Edward’s infidelity.

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The movie has an interesting structure that seems to make it different from other infidelity dramas. It tells the story from Nicole & Maxine’s explosive confrontation & flashing back to the past from each other’s point of view to show how it all happened, but unfortunately it doesn’t work. It’s more focused on setting up the infidelity without interrogating the reasons why it happened. So yes, there are catfights peppered with witty remarks & moments of heightened drama that the genre supposedly requires – with a sprinkle of sex scenes – but it’s less interesting when it follows the already trodden path. The movie livens up when it gives us brief glimpses between Maxine & Edward’s marriage & Nicole & Maxine’s blooming friendship, but there aren’t enough of it to create a complicated portrait of their lives. It also muddles the story by not diving deep into Edward’s perspective. He’s the man who created a whole mess of problems for everyone, but he’s almost removed from it. We’re stuck watching two women fight over a man without fully revealing why he cheated on his wife in the first place.

And even when the movie indulges in its campy tropes, it all feels tired & cliched. The confrontations aren’t as witty or memorable as they should be. Even the sex scenes aren’t as titillating as it should be. You could blame the movie’s R-13 rating, but a movie can still be sexy by employing a “less is more” approach through foreplay & knowing glances. However, it doesn’t use this tactic, favoring to show the actors kissing, moaning, & caressing each other’s bodies. These scenes feel rudimentary & lack the passion or verve to arouse audiences. It wastes great performances from Lovi Poe & Erich Gonzales, while Tom Rodriguez tries his best to make his character work. A memorable cameo by Ricci Chan deserves a shout-out, as he pops out of nowhere to deliver a speech so catty & feisty that it’s easy to see why it’s included; even if it’s completely removed from the plot.

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A huge surprise comes from moments of odd ineptitude that somehow made the final cut. There are two notable shots that are out of focus. At one point, you can see a cow’s muscles convulse in front of a camera & release urine from its body during an establishing shot while Edward’s car drives on the road; and of course, it’s not relevant to the plot. It’s flabbergasting to watch this happen in a major commercial release from one of the most notable film directors in the Philippines.

Add an excellent ending that would’ve made an impact if it weren’t rushed, & you’ve got another bland & perfunctory infidelity drama. In spite of its novel narrative structure, The Significant Other runs on auto-pilot & in the process, reveals how minor it really is.

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Smaller and Smaller Circles is an Excellent Mystery Set in a Seemingly Godless Universe

TL;DR: Raya Martin’s adaptation of F.H. Batacan’s critically acclaimed novel eschews the lurid thrills in its premise to examine corrupt institutions & God’s place within it.

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

If you’re a believer, it’s a question that will cross your mind in the face of continuous adversity. It doesn’t matter if your problems are big or small, since we all have our own crosses to bear. Prayers are the only lifeline some of us have, especially in a world where the weak & oppressed are at a disadvantage & the institutions surrounding them rarely help or address their problems; forcing them to act sinfully in order to survive, lest they end up in a worse state than they were before. But what happens when no one seems to be on the receiving end of our prayers? It can seem like there’s an all-powerful being who will judge us, but never listens to our sufferings. Or worse: there’s no one there in the first place.

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Father Gus Saenz (Nomie Buencamino) & Father Jerome Lucero (Sid Lucero) find themselves in the perfect position to explore this conundrum in this movie adaptation of F.H. Batacan’s highly acclaimed novel, considered by many as the first Filipino crime novel. Both of them are Jesuit priests skilled in forensic science, whom are called by police director Francisco Lastimosa (Bembol Roco) to investigate a series of grisly murders targeting prepubescent boys in Payatas; a barangay famous for its huge garbage dumpsite & the poverty surrounding it. With the help of the Joanna Bonifacio (Carla Humphries), a nosy journalist who previously studied under Father Saenz, they’ll work together to figure out who is responsible for the senseless deaths.

The movie eschews the lurid thrills of its premise, since it’s not really what it’s about. It focuses more on our leads balancing their duties as priest who upholds the values of the Catholic Church, & as forensic experts helping out in any way they could. It embraces the process of solving the case, following clues & red herrings, & trying their best to figure out who perpetrated these murders & what kind of person would commit them. They also find themselves at the mercy of dysfunctional bureaucracies of the Catholic Church & the Philippine National Police, where corruption & incompetence fester rapidly that the powerless are not only at their mercy, but left to suffer continuously. While we get glimpses of the serial killer’s psychology throughout the movie – starting with the movie’s first scene – it never gives us the pleasure of enjoying the violence. It’s only teased out, & more often we see its chilling consequences. When we do get to see it, it is brutal, horrifying, awkward, & anticlimactic at times.

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It’s a workmanlike approach, allowing us to be absorbed in the brutal proceedings. It never gets too dark though, with its grim, deadpan sense of humor acting as a release valve that never overwhelms the sober tone it set. There’s also the throbbing score, a mix of subtle, pulsating synths, & the angelic voices of the Loboc Children’s Choir, sprinkled with quirky sound effects – like the sound of a dial-up router while the two priests are brainstorming – creating an atmosphere of doom amongst the Church & its young constituents. All of this is shot with a keen eye by J.A. Tadena, whose gorgeous cinematography drapes the movie with a grim color palette the further the leads are from positions of power, emphasizing how it feels to be ignored by institutions, & even God himself. After making critically acclaimed experimental films, Raya Martin has made another impressive work in his first foray into mainstream fare, that has enough quirky flourishes to make it stand out.

Surrounding the movie is a murderer’s row of talented actors. One of the best things about it are the surprise cameos from renowned actors delivering great work from bit parts – the best one involving an old woman giving Father Saenz a bag of maruya – that revealing them ruins half of the fun, so let’s talk about the performances that can’t be spoiled. Bembol Roco delivers a fiery performance as a morally upright police director who can unleash his anger in an instant. Raffy Tejado gives a layered portrayal as a slimy, incompetent attorney whose pride & ambition outmaches his intelligence & moral compass. Ricky Davao plays the role of Cardinal Meneses as a man who not only prioritizes the Church before his constituents, but also cunning enough to weaponize his supposed moral high ground.

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Arguably the best work comes from the leads, who crafted complex portrayals out of seemingly simple characters. Carla Humphries giver her role as a worldly, tenacious journalist with a warmth she shares with the people she’s familiar with. Sid Lucero exposes his character’s youth in his profession without diminishing his skills. Most importantly, Nomie Buencamino is a standout, who gives off a world-weary demeanor but never wavers in his fight against injustice.

These characters have moments where the stress of working on the case is starting to wear on them, yet they persevere; and not only because it’s the right thing to do. At one point, when Cardinal Menenses insinuates that Father Saenz has ulterior motives for joining the investigation, he replies: “There are many ways to give witness to faith.” We may not be sure if God exists, but Smaller and Smaller Circles suggests a way to bridge the gap between God & us mere mortals: helping the needy & exploited, & ensuring justice is served in the most humane way possible. It is the closest thing we have to an act of God, & those who have lost faith will need it.

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