WORKING GIRLS (Jose Javier Reyes)

This updated version of the classic Ishmael Bernal ensemble comedy might have worked properly if it weren’t for the continual adherence to mainstream clichés, specifically the penchant for tireless, eternal dialogue. Though a mainstream venture (the 2010 version is jointly produced by VIVA, which produced the Bernal film, GMA Films, and Unitel), Jose Javier Reyes can choose his WORKING GIRLS to be significant without being over the top. The key really is in the quality of the script.

But what bothers me most about this version of WORKING GIRLS is the absence of social issues that challenge the women of today. Sure, the satire about the beauty industry is a nice touch, but it stands alone, drowned in little vignettes of women and their love life maladies.

In the original film, various pressing issues are raised underneath all the humor and sex: Hilda Koronel is struggling against gender inequality in the workplace; Rio Locsin is faced with an unwanted pregnancy; Carmi Martin seduces her way up the corporate ladder; Gina Pareño battles her academic limitations and gets by through improvisation; Chanda Romero has a husband who is emasculated by her career success; Maria Isabel Lopez is plagued by consumerism and piles of debt, and; Baby Delgado has everything sans true love.

In fact, the Bernal film pays great attention to these representations of women and the jobs that they have. In the beginning, we see Rio Locsin doing her usual routine as secretary to Hilda Koronel—dusting the phone, inspecting her boss’s office, etc. Then there’s Carmi Martin who plays another secretary and her mess of a table filled not with office supplies, but beauty tools. Sadly, the 2010 update fails to emphasize these little details. And what is the importance of such? Nothing really, except to underscore the issues these women face. Before, there is a stereotype of women as secretaries, and to explore further, secretaries as past time of their male bosses. Hence the thinking goes that if you are a secretary, most likely you are your boss’s moll.

In the update, we see different women, connected by some sort of shallow relationships, facing various personal issues that should be of little or no impact to national awareness: Jennylyn Mercado is a call center agent whose main worry is being a single mom and the fact that her baby’s daddy is getting married to another woman; Iza Calzado is a nurse who is about to go abroad, but is confronted with her past when one of her patient turns out to be the wife of the man who left her years ago; Eugene Domingo has a useless husband (Antonio Aquitania) and single-handedly raises their kids by selling bags online; Bianca King is a rich girl who enters the world of broadcast media and learns a lesson or two in humility; Christine Reyes is doing the Carmi Martin and Maria Isabel Lopez role combined; Ruffa Gutierrez is playing herself, and; the only decently-written and pitch-perfectly acted role is that of Eula Valdez who plays a cosmetic surgeon. Eula doesn’t even need lines to utter. The rolling of her eyeballs is enough justification of women empowerment.

While these little vignettes offer several interesting moments, they can be easily disposed. Jennylyn Mercado is a call center agent, but what do we get about the call center industry? And what of its workforce?

Iza Calzado is a nurse. The title of the film is WORKING GIRLS. Just check the nursing industry in the Philippines for the past five years and judge for yourself if this mini-story is worth telling. Nevertheless, Calzado and Ina Feleo (who play the bedridden wife to Jao Mapa, who is the man in discussion earlier) both give their best during their scenes together. As seasoned actresses who have already proved their calibre, Calzado and Feleo shine despite the shoddy story.

Four of the original Working Girls return in the updated version: Maria Isabel Lopez who is now reduced to a vocal feminist, Carmi Martin, Rio Locsin who plays Jennylyn Mercado’s mom, and who should have had more screen time, and Gina Pareño who is Eugene Domingo’s mother-in-law. At least there were some connections to the original film, but I wonder what do these four women think of the new version in comparison to their version? Oh well at least Pareño gets to utter her famous line from the original film. I would be insulted had she not said “As a matter of fact…” at least once.

In between, some strong supporting roles add weight to the movie: Jackie Lou Blanco is a commanding force as a TV network executive; Andrea Del Rosario plays an Executive Producer who does a “Training Day” with Bianca King’s Segment Producer character; Mylene Dizon is firm and poised as Andrea Del Rosario’s superior, and Cherie Gil is the daughter of a recently-deceased business tycoon who is at odds with Ruffa Gutierrez’s character who plays, technically her stepmom. Cherie Gil is still Cherie Gil, and no poor material can make her a lesser actress.

In a nutshell, these are my problems with the updated version, coupled with the unclean editing, and the ending where it is obvious that all the stories are being forced into a resolution so that the end credits could roll. I could go and on about how Christine Reyes and Katya Santos who plays her housemate who is sleeping with a married man are mudslinging each other, and in the end nothing is being done about their characters’ folly, but I’ll stop here.

Jose Javier Reyes has a potential to improve and explore unchartered territory, and I am still hopeful for it to happen one day. There were hints of hope in his LIVE SHOW (his best film I’ve seen, weakened by a confused POV) and Kasal Kasali Kasalo (a nice satire on marriage, scarred by Judy Ann’s over the top performance), and I still haven’t seen his earlier films (which may be better than his latest ones) so I’ll reserve judgment for Reyes as a director and as a screenwriter. Could he be having a Shyamalan moment? Would it be better if he let others direct his script? Well, let’s just not make it the other way around, or mention ‘TIL MY HEARTACHES END and we’ll be fine.



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