MMFF 2018: Mary, Marry Me is a Fun Romp That Loses Itself in the Wedding

TL;DR: Mary, Marry Me is too distracted by hijinx to effectively deliver a lovely story between estranged sisters.

Putting real-life sisters Toni & Alex Gonzaga in the same movie is already a great idea on its own. If done right, their sisterly bond can be easily translated onscreen with no trouble, and their different comedic personas will result in hilarious interplay. Adding Sam Milby in the mix by putting him at the center of a love triangle between the two, somewhat reviving his successful love team with Toni Gonzaga during the last decade, and you have a possible crowdpleaser that’s sure to entice any Gonzaga superfan. To be fair, Mary, Marry Me knows this & tries its best to mine the talents of everyone involved & turn it into something special. However, the end result is so sloppy it ends up undermining the whole film.

Ever since they were young, Mary Jane (Toni Gonzaga) has always been protective of her younger sister Mary Anne (Alex Gonzaga). They may bicker once in a while, but they always remained close. But when both of their parents die in a car accident, Mary Jane decides that the best thing to do is to accept her aunt’s offer to petition Mary Anne to America. Neither one of them want to be separated from each other, but Mary Jane believes this will give her sister a chance at a better life. She promises her sister that she’d visit her in America, but she never did.

They would be reunited decades later, but not in the way they expected. Mary Anne is returning to the Philippines to get married in her home country, with Mary Jane – now a successful wedding planner – organizing her sister’s wedding. What Mary Jane didn’t know is Mary Anne’s fiance is Pete (Sam Milby), Mary Jane’s ex-boyfriend. Mary Jane was initially concerned about their setup, but she was reassured by both Mary Jane & Pete that this wouldn’t be a problem. However, Mary Anne still has feelings for Pete, which she knows will not only jeopardize the wedding, but her already fraught bond with her sister.

It’s a setup that could devolve into a clichéd, misogynistic mess almost immediately, in the grand tradition of bridal movies about women’s supposed inability to stay sane in a wedding & retain healthy relationships with other women. But outside of a single critical instance of slut-shaming, it mostly sidesteps this by focusing on the unresolved tension between the two sisters. It’s a smart decision, since not only is it more compelling than watching two women fight over a man, the film creates a complicated dynamic caused by their long separation that is sweet & touching.

The fact that the Gonzaga sisters are paired together helps a lot too. Each scene between them are crackling with energy, with Alex Gonzaga putting her hyperactive, heightened persona to good use, giving a much needed jolt to already funny jokes, while Toni Gonzaga acts as the straight man who can fight back with grace while befuddled at the situation she’s trapped in. Their obvious affection for each other shines throughout the film, adding a layer of poignancy even in the film’s smallest moments; like when Mary Anne & Mary Jane goofing off as they go through their old stuff.

It’s too bad it clashes with the broad romantic comedy it’s built out off. Not because it’s terrible! Some of the jokes may be stale, but they are funnier & sharper than it has any right to be, even if it can be mean-spirited at times &. The rest of the cast, including Melai Cantiveros, Bayani Agbayani, Milo Elmido Jr., & Moi Marcampo can sell any joke through their delivery alone. Sam Milby is a fantastic foil for the two women. He’s charismatic & has great chemistry with both of them, especially with Toni Gonzaga, whose time-tested chemistry is on full display here.

It just couldn’t find a way for these two tones to mesh naturally. Instead of providing a wacky backdrop for the sisters’ emotionally loaded relationship, it becomes a distraction. The movie keeps circling around to the broad hijinx afforded by its premise to setting up Pete’s romance with both Mary Anne & Pete. Those moments are delightful on its own, but it stalls an already complicated story from moving forward. It’s frustrating, since it reduces the emotional impact of the movie’s final scenes, where everything comes to a head. Mary, Marry Me may have its eyes on the altar, but the real relationship it needed to focus on isn’t on the church aisle.

Movie Review: DOTGA: Da One That Ghost Away is a Silly, Uneven Spoof Unworthy of Its Cast

TL;DR: This silly, slightly bawdy, spotty spoof of horror movies never gels into something special, but the cast makes it tolerable to watch.

Just taking a look at DOTGA: Da One That Ghost Away’s plot gives off the impression that it’s needlessly complicated than it should be. And you’re absolutely right.

Carmel (Kim Chiu) & Jeje (Ryan Bang) are close childhood friends working as fake exorcists, tricking their clients into thinking they’ve driven away the evil spirits lurking in their homes; which is probably an unintentional swipe at the Warrens, whose supernatural claims are dubious at best. What really happens is the rest of their crew dresses up as ghosts & ghouls they supposedly dispelled from their client’s house, & show the footage to them afterwards. She wouldn’t be doing this if the supernatural powers she inherited from her grandmother has awakened within her. Carmel is only doing this to provide for her grandmother (Marissa Delgado) & her stepsister Serrah (Maymay Entrata).

They will need that money soon. If they don’t pay their overdue debt soon, they will be kicked out of their house. Luckily, a rich, handsome, talented man named Jack Colmenares (Enzo Pineda) asked Carmel’s help to purify his house for the exact amount of money they need. She agrees since it will help them get out of their financial mess, but Jerald is very skeptical of Jack. Carmel & most of their crew were unfazed by the danger – since they really need the money – so they decided to accept the deal & host another fake exorcism. But once they arrive, the phony horror they had set up is set aside for real horror, as they try to survive the vengeful spirits attacking them in the middle of the night.

But that’s not all! Jerald still hasn’t told Carmel that he loves her & Jack’s arrival puts Carmel at the center of a love triangle. There’s also the blossoming relationship between Serrah and her childhood friend Chire (Edward Barber).

This is par for the course with the work of Tony Y. Reyes; a prolific comedic director who blends elements of romance, action, or fantasy & using broad, vaudeville-inspired humor to tie everything together. He has frequently worked with longtime comedians Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, & Joey de Leon throughout his long, fruitful career – including the highly divisive Enteng Kabisote series – who shares the same sensibilities as the trio. He wants us to have fun & be entertained, giving us everything we want & using every opportunity to crack a joke.

Even without his usual collaborators, DOTGA: Da One That Ghost Away fits nicely in his expansive oeuvre. It isn’t interested in creating a fruitful balance between comedy, horror, & romance & it shows in the broad, ramshackle plot allows it to make a ton of jokes, but the whole story doesn’t add up to a satisfying whole. In trying to to reach the widest audience possible, he ends up with a movie that is sloppy & inorganic, overstuffed with stories that end up being tangential to each other – even the ones that are supposed to be correlated – which dilutes the impact of some of the surprises the movie has in store.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the plots are strong on their own, but none of them rise above mediocrity; especially if it focuses on everyone’s romantic entanglements. The blossoming romance between Serrah & Chire is the weakest story of the bunch, because even if Maymay Entrata & Edward Barber gets a chance to throw a few zingers & show off their chemistry that exists, it’s disconnected fron the main plot that the movie drags whenever it focuses on their trials. Jerald’s unrequited love for Carmel & Jack’s role in the love triangle doesn’t go where it typically might have, but it undercuts it by the end.

Even the movie’s jokes are hit-or-miss. It is loud, obvious, & casually offensive, relying on bad puns, mean-spirited insults, & witless references rather than funny jokes. These are more apparent at the beginning, where the weak jokes combine with terrible exposition. Some of the jokes are dirty – as dirty one can be in a PG-rated film in the Philippines – & it revels in it with glee like a child who realized he can get away spouting swears & sexual references; which is oddly endearing. One notable example is Jack Colmenares* – say it aloud at least three times – whose name is repeated ad nauseum until it is sucked bone dry of any humor. At one point, the name is written on a whiteboard as “JACK COLmenares” for those who couldn’t get the joke.

It becomes more fun & interesting once Carmel, Jeje, & the rest of their crew set foot inside the haunted house, because the movies exerts more effort than it did before. It tries to mock or subvert horror movie tropes within Reyes’ sense of humor & it often succeeds, because it taps into a richer vein of material in order to further its own absurdity. It’s still hampered by its worst impulses – one example is a woman with long hair wearing a white dress who crawls out of the TV & gets stuck because she’s fat, get it? – but the movie becomes tolerable to watch compared to where it was before. It helps that this might be Tony Y. Reyes’ most gorgeous film to date, aping the creepy atmosphere of horror movies within its wacky, slapstick vibe & it makes it even funnier.

Buried underneath this uneven movie is a cast who are relishing the opportunity to be in a movie this silly. The performances are pitched higher than they should be, which is exhausting to watch, but the cast makes it work with their talent & enthusiasm for the limp material. It’s been a while since Kim Chiu starred in a comedy that’s not romantic & she fits right at home with the movie’s wackiness. Ryan Bang’s movie roles always end up either playing best friends of the main leads or borderline racist comic relief, but this time he gets a chance to shine on his own, trading quips with Kim Chiu & the rest of the cast. Maymay Entrata & Edward Barber are better at delivering jokes than translating their real-life romance to the big screen. Even Tetay, Lassy Marquez, Chokoleit & Pepe Herrera – who are also comedic actors known for playing sidekicks – are funny, even if they’re not given much to do. There’s a wealth of talent on display here, but the end result is a disappointing comedy that tries to do everything but ends up being tolerable.

*If you don’t understand Tagalog, Jack Colmenares’s name is a bad, dirty pun. ‘Jack Col’ sounds like ‘jakol,’ which means ‘to masturbate.’ Since the next syllable of that is ‘me,’ saying the name out loud is asking people to jack him off. ‘Nares’ doesn’t mean anything.