In my quick review of #Y in UrbanTribe’s Cinemalaya X retrospective, I praised Coleen Garcia’s performance in her breakout role and surmised that if given meatier material she has the potential to shine and win an acting award someday. Lo and behold, just a year later, she’s on her way.
Ex With Benefits reunites Coleen with director Gino M. Santos and pairs her with Derek Ramsay as sweethearts who serendipitously meet 10 years after a bad breakup. She plays Arki, a top medical representative tasked to get the endorsement of Derek’s Adam, a high-profile sports doctor, for a new painkiller her company is selling. As they get to spend more time together, old wounds open, hardened hearts soften, and inhibited passions reignite.
The movie isn’t exactly a straightforward romance per se but is surprisingly a lot darker and more mature, especially in some situations the characters experience, the decisions they make, and the fates that await them.
It also goes beyond the love story by offering insightful commentary on the dynamics of power and corruption in the pharmaceutical/sales industry. Groups may feel offended by the depiction onscreen, but I don’t think it can be denied that this unflattering side of the occupation does exist. And the movie carefully balances that out by saying this dynamic is not isolated and found in other industries and power relationships too.
There’s a certain technical quality I appreciated in this movie that I didn’t find in some of the more recent Viva productions or co-productions (Chain Mail, Para Sa Hopeless Romantic), which I can attribute to the ingenuity of director Gino M. Santos. The energy and flair he infused in #Y that made it so enjoyable is still here. There’s some playfulness in suturing the shots, with some parts benefiting from stylistic cuts and framing. He reminds me of the vibrant masterpieces of Hollywood director David O. Russell, particularly Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Simply put, the movie looks good, as well as superbly shot and edited.
My major gripe though would have to be the plotting of the screenplay. The first half is filled with bits of information and plot points that all get resolved only in the more satisfying second half. I understand that the major revelations would need to be reserved for the climax for dramatic effect, but it wouldn’t hurt to place some small payoffs in the earlier half of the movie to provide some breathing space for the audience.
It also placed too much focus on some subplots that don’t really contribute to the overall story, such as the whole deal with Scarlet (Meg Imperial) and Dee (Tirso Cruz III). These could’ve been approached in a less invasive way or, conversely, given a more meaningful impact to the major arc.
Derek is a very capable actor, and he shines the most in these upper-class urban roles. There’s arguably no other actor who can tackle the characters he’s played in movies such as this, And I Love You So, No Other Woman, The Trophy Wife, and English Only Please as effectively as he does. Despite his onscreen bravado, he still has this palpable vulnerability that gives way to tender moments.
This is Coleen’s first starring role, and boy is she fearless. Sinking her teeth in a role like this isn’t exactly easy, but she isn’t afraid to fully realize her character, whatever it demanded. At only 22, Coleen may seem too young for the part, but, hey, that didn’t stop Jennifer Lawrence from winning an Oscar! This film marks the birth of an actress to watch for, and I’m very excited to see where she goes from here.
Stray observations (SPOILER ALERT! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!)
- Gino M. Santos is just 25 years old but has several great films under his belt. Wow!
- Here’s to more Gino-Coleen collaborations (another Russell-JLaw parallel there!).
- Just in case you’re wondering, there are quite a few sex scenes in this movie, but they’re tastefully done and well shot. I don’t mind too as it’s an important component of the story.
- There are some strong statements that could get people talking: “If you can’t be a doctor, date one”; “Wag utak doctor, utak med rep”; “Bro para ka namang babae”; “Baka mataba siya.”
- There are, however, tons of quotable quotes as well: “Everybody deserves a second chance”; “There is no healing if there is no pain.”
- Is it that easy to suspend a student? There’s usually an administrative conference/tribunal first to validate the grounds for suspension, right?
- Am I right that the guy who taunted Adam is the dean’s son? If so, that’s definitely a ground for conflict of interest, and the case should’ve been handled by another authority.
- I was so scared that Anthorol would turn out harmful and that becomes the deal breaker for Arki and Adam. I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way!
- Sometimes Coleen’s hair extensions are obvious.
- What’s the ice cream technique?
Director: Gino M. Santos
With: Derek Ramsay, Coleen Garcia, Meg Imperial