By Redentor Lagrimas Lebantino
Movie Rating : ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
TO simply say that Family Matters is a tearjerker does not accord the film justice. There is excellent craftsmanship at work, and a narrative that is deeply personal.
At the center of it is a married couple dealing with the inevitability of old age—the gnawing reality of the body going weaker and one’s own agency becoming unreliable. The patriarch Francisco (Noel Trinidad) struggles with the fact that it is no longer he who takes care of his children. The matriarch Eleanor (Liza Lorena) assures him that they will always have each other.
The premise is a dramatic precursor, setting off a story that finds family members, the children in particular, caring for their parents while they attend to their personal affairs.
Masterful depiction of a familiar drama
The film hits home as it reminds of other Filipino drama flicks. Laurice Guillen’s Tanging Yaman (2000) delivers an ode to family devotion amidst unspoken anger exploding at the film’s climax. In Joel Lamangan’s Filipinas (2003), the milieu mirrors the politics of familial relations challenged by differing life principles and values. Cathy Garcia Molina’s Seven Sundays (2017) tells, to a not-so-subtle degree, that family is everything one needs to be truly happy.
Family Matters ticks each of these theses, offering a believable take on how it looks like when children are pressed to express how they genuinely care for their parents. How the film’s director Nuel Naval manages to do this does not call attention to itself. What you see are everyday matters interspersed with emotional triggers brought about by unresolved conflicts, or issues that just need to be dealt with at the moment.
Naval light-handedly orchestrates these things to happen, then he drops stimuli that elicit our own emotional response to the scenes. These stimuli are not only familiar; they are realities that define our core. Naval achieves such feat in this film—his best work to date.
Ellen (Nikki Valdez) is the third child of Francisco and Eleanor who is unmarried and stays with them. When she decides to see her boyfriend in the States, the other siblings insist on employing a nurse to take care of their parents, specifically Francisco. With Francisco’s objection, they decide to take turns caring for the elders in their own homes. All of them willingly do their share while they continue attending to their own families.
Mel Mendoza Del Rosario’s script zeros in on such dynamics, focusing on the mundane at certain points: how schedules are squeezed in to do errands, how conversations are carried out over Sunday meals, or how the young are preoccupied with the digital times. The more serious scenes are written without appearing to just turn everything emotional. In fact, these scenes remain faithful to the premise and its development, eliciting the kind of reactions the characters are most likely to show.
Naval complements the script with a clear notion of organic and poignant. Confrontations are delivered with much intensity but are not necessarily long, allowing specific emotions to be contained and savored in the scenes. Reconciliations are brief, too, making the moments tender and sweet but not overly sentimental.
A superb ensemble
The ensemble is nothing short of superb. The adult children of Trinidad and Lorena are distinct in their struggles and imperfections. Noni Buencamino is piercing in his restraint, showing his disarming moments of pain. Nikki Valdez effortlessly connects to anyone who just wants to serve their parents. Mylene Dizon shows neutrality necessary for balance. JC Santos comes across as the affectionate and cool Tito. Agot Isidro is the daughter-in-law whose generosity grounds and uplifts.
Even the younger cast is splendid; their performances are just appropriate to their ages. Ian Pangilinan proves to be a promising young actor. In his scenes with Buencamino, he exudes both the innocence and the rebellious spirit typical of a man his age.
Liza Lorena is undoubtedly the ultimate wife and mother in the film, the esteemed actress that consummates and dispenses love like no other—towards her husband for whom she perfectly fits as the better half, and her children whom she cares for without selfless expectations. Noel Trinidad is the kind of father you just want to love despite his quirk and stubbornness.
Family Matters, even in its length which some think is a little too much, easily captures what the Filipino family is. It has the devotion of Tanging Yaman, the unifying spirit of Filipinas, and the intimacy of Seven Sundays. It comes with a message that all sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers have always known. But it comes with no imposition. The film simply does it right. No award is necessary to affirm the most pleasant gift it has given its audience: being MMFF’s best.