Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Meant to Beh is Actually Good! This is Not a Drill!

TL;DR: Meant to Beh is a new benchmark for Vic Sotto’s movies. It is at its best when it focuses on the emotionally rich story at its core & trying out funny, wackier jokes, instead of falling back on old habits.

Everyone who found out that Meant to Beh is included in the first four slots reserved for films chosen through script submission either rolled their eyes in frustration or became giddy with excitement. Whether we like it or not – and I certainly don’t – Vic Sotto’s films have become an inseparable part of the Metro Manila Film Festival, either as a symbol of “squeaky clean” family entertainment or a form of crass capitalism that condescends to every ethnicity, class, or gender; even if his movies never gained any critical acclaim & aren’t the ridiculously huge moneymakers they used to be in the previous decade.

Meant to Beh may change all this, but only slightly. After years of tinkering what a Vic Sotto movie should look like in the 2010s by bringing in new directors & breaking out of the action-fantasy mold set out by Enteng Kabisote, they’ve finally made a movie that is actually, surprisingly good.

Ron (Vic Sotto) & Victoria (Dawn Zulueta) are two complete opposites married to each other. Ron is a down-to-earth manager of a car wash with tacky taste who enjoys danggit and salted egg for breakfast. Victoria is a classy, ambitious executive for a travel magazine who loves fine dining. Their marrigae isn’t perfect thanks to their communication issues & the reason for their union, but they unconditionally love their three children Christian, Alex, & Riley. 
But when all of their insecurities & problems erupt thanks to Ron’s close friendship with Agatha (Andrea Torres), his regular passenger after he became a driver for an Uber-like company, they decide to split up. Ron & Agatha start dating, while Victoria is courted by Benjo (Daniel Matsunaga), a famous model/actor/athlete she hired as the new face of their travel magazine. This sends her children in panic, doing everything they can to keep their family intact.

It seems like a set-up for a full-blown farce, but Meant to Beh does something very different that makes it stand out from Vic Sotto’s previous films. It presents us with a family with an interesting dynamic, while making room for jokes. Even the three children each have their own subplots. Christian (JC Santos) is an avid photographer who bonds more with his mother. He pretends to be someone else online when talking to his crush, since he’s too embarassed to talk to her. Alex (Gabbi Garcia) is a sporty tomboy who is closer to her father, trying to fend off the advances of his admirer played by Ruru Madrid. Riley (Baste Granfon) is a troublemaker with a penchant for making Rube Goldberg machines, whose idea of play is so rough none of his maids last long.

Their kids’ problems provide plenty of fodder for Ron & Victoria to break up, but it never does. One of the best things about the movie is for the majority of the film, it never takes the easy path in telling what could be a straightforward story. Instead of piling on one wacky external problem after another – either from their kids or Andrea – in order to create conflict, it opts for something more mature & emotionally true to their characters & their dysfunctional marriage, even as it falls apart. It gives Vic Sotto & Dawn Zulueta a chance to shine as a couple stuck in an odd marriage but still trying to make it work for their family, until it doesn’t. It gives them a chance to show off their underutilized skills, like Vic Sotto’s solid dramatic acting & Dawn Zulueta’s sharp comedic timing. Even Daniel Matsunaga & Andrea Torres are fine foils for their foibles. It even manifests in the way it handles product placement with care & subtlety, integrating it into the plot instead of stopping it completely for the heavy-handed commercials Vic Sotto’s movies are infamously known for. This means it moves slower than Vic Sotto’s older movies – even with the godawful product placement – but it’s much more rewarding that way.

The movie makes up for it by throwing as many gags as it can. What’s amazing is the movie’s hit ratio is higher than usual, since it cuts back on canned lines & heavy mugging for pure absurdity mixed with actual warmth. It’s also willing to subvert expectations for a joke heavily rooted in the characters. There are still references here & there – including one that feels like Dawn Zulueta is reclaiming a meme as her own – but it’s never intrusive & the cast sells the hell out of them. It’s the least mean-spirited & funniest movie Vic Sotto made in years.

Yet parts of Vic Sotto’s old style rears its head from time to time, often to its detriment. There’s the casual yellowface that segues into a plot where another woman throws herself into Vic Sotto’s arms, which thankfully gets resolved quickly. Canned lines pop up at times. And as soon as it gets closer towards the end, it flips back on the promise it presented for most of the movie for something happier yet emotionally false, which is the norm for his movies.
Not too mention the kid’s plots are duds – excpet for Riley’s maid problem – that take time away from Ron & Andrea’s marital problems, especially Christian’s creepy catfishing. That’s not a disservice to the actors who did great work – including Baste Granfon in his acting debut – but they don’t have the emotional richness of the main plot.

Clearly, Meant to Beh is an instant standout in Vic Sotto’s oeuvre because of the ways it updated his proven formula for today’s audiences. And yet both of its feet are standing between the past & the present, stepping forward & backward until it ends up weaker from where it started. If this is what Vic Sotto’s movies would look like from now on, we’re off to a good start. We still don’t know whether they’ll continue in this direction, or push it even further, but for now, let’s enjoy the fact that when families flock to Meant to Beh, they’re going to have a wonderful time.