A Very Good Girl Review: This Sweet Revenge Has a Sour Aftertaste
Oct 2, 2023   •   Eli Magsaysay
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Oct 2, 2023   •   Eli Magsaysay
Kathryn Bernardo and Dolly De Leon deliver killer performances in the Petersen Vargas dark comedy, A Very Good Girl, but we wish the film committed to revolt.
(WARNING: Spoilers ahead!)
Star Cinema’s 30th anniversary, Petersen Vargas’ A Very Good Girl, offering does feel like a transition to a new age. It starts very Star Cinema. The colors are popping vibrant, the acting larger than life, the matter at hand is ridiculous. But as every layer is peeled, as the characters reveal their truths, we are treated to plot elements we aren’t used to seeing in a Star Cinema film.
One cannot help but think of the rest of the company’s upcoming features: Hindi Ako si Big Bird, Nang Mapagod si Kamatayan, Elena 1944 — each isn’t exactly typical to the company’s brand. It almost feels like the first act of A Very Good Girl was intentionally familiar so that the audience is eased into the changes that the company is bound to make.
And if the darkness of the themes we are later treated to is any indication, it’s safe to say that mainstream cinema just took a very interesting turn.
Noel Teehankee has been DoP to many Star Cinema biggest earners, including Kathryn Bernardo’s hits The Hows of Us and Hello, Love, Goodbye, but you can tell he had tremendous fun shooting this one. AVGG pops off the screen with colors that perfectly capture Molly’s (De Leon) lavish world that Mercy/Philo (Bernardo) infiltrates.
And boy, what a gorgeous infiltration. Praise be to God and to the stylist for dressing up Bernardo like the fashionista that she is. The wardrobe in this film, especially Philo’s, is reminiscent of an obvious inspiration, The Devil Wears Prada, yes, but it also works like in a superhero movie. As the workhorse virtual assistant Mercy, Bernardo is just like any of the working class, but as Philo, she dons her wardrobe like a hero dons their costume when they’re about to kick ass.
Undeniably similar to Mean Girls, Philo’s route to destroying her personal Regina George is through her minions, starting with Zab played by a hilarious Chie Filomeno, who embodies the type of socialite to trend on social media for making a mess in Poblacion.
The film is filled with strong performances from its supporting cast that includes a surprising Jake Ejercito, Gillian Vicencio, Ana Abad Santos, Angel Aquino, and our personal pick of standouts, Donna Cariaga as Philo/Mercy’s best friend Karen, and Kaori Oinuma as Rigel in a small but impactful role.
But it’s truly Dolly De Leon and Kathryn Bernardo’s performances that make the trip to the cinema worth it. Because honestly, if this film’s lone lasting impact is that it introduced Dolly De Leon to the wider Filipino audience and reintroduced Kathryn Bernardo as the versatile talented star that she is (who doesn’t need a leading man, by the way!) then it would be enough.
De Leon’s Molly is stern but vulnerable, menacing but funny. You love to hate her, but you’ll somehow hope for her to be better because you find yourself questioning whether she’s truly all that bad. And if that isn’t the mark of a good actor, the ability to make the vile a joy to watch; the skill to manipulate you the same way her character is manipulating those around her.
Dolly De Leon has officially arrived as a major force in Philippine Cinema with A Very Good Girl. She took the road less traveled to get here, but what a satisfying thing to see a tremendous talent finally receive the flowers she has long deserved not only abroad where we can only watch and cheer, but here at home where we can hand them to her ourselves.
Her journey’s almost the complete opposite of Kathryn Bernardo’s, who’s been in the mainstream since her childhood, but whose talent still somehow has naysayers despite her longevity. And honestly, we’re over the doubters.
For the longest time, Bernardo has been directed by her mother figures in the business. And in her first film in a long time that’s under a male director, one who admits to not being an “actor’s director”, Bernardo’s work as Philo and Mercy almost feels like a synthesis of everything she’s learned from all of them. Her showcase of versatility is one we haven’t seen in any film by any local actor in such a long time.
I could feel Mae Cruz-Alviar’s spirit (Can’t Help Falling in Love, 2 Good 2 Be True) in the way she portrayed Philo as the bubbly socialite eager to please Molly. There’s a dark desperation in Mercy and a girl boss energy in Philo that we first saw in Bernardo in Olivia Lamasan’s Barcelona and La Luna Sangre, respectively. Her unparalleled dramatic skills and effective comedic timing are the kind of stuff we know from The Hows of Us and She’s Dating the Gangster, and her grit is one that we’ve seen most recently from Hello, Love, Goodbye — all of which by her constant collaborator, Cathy Garcia-Molina.
It was like watching an anime hero use all the tricks she acquired from all her previous masters in one final boss fight. But aside from feeling like a tribute to her mentors, it also felt like a graduation. In this film, Kathryn Bernardo reintroduces herself as a woman and as an artist. She traverses the film’s ever-changing tone with great skill and dexterity, at once strong and vulnerable.
To discredit her, to deny that she’s a force in the acting department only because she’s been starring in blockbusters is tired at this point. Not many actors from this generation have the ability to deliver performances as strong while making the Filipino audience flock to the cinemas. Bernardo does both. She is the movie star of this generation and she’s a tremendous talent. Get used to it.
Vargas and his writers are generous in peppering the film with socio-political commentary. Throwing shade to Imelda Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Thank you very much! There’s so much in here that could easily be read as an allegory for the Filipino’s collective struggle against powerful figures that has kept us hostage for too long. That is why it’s an important film, but it’s also why its ending is such a letdown.
Why must magnanimity, compassion, and mercy be the burden of the oppressed? Why didn’t the writers let Mercy/Philo outsmart Molly? Why end with a deus ex machina? This messaging is the film’s major weakness. This refusal to commit to revolt, this failure to subvert, this very Star Cinema and Primetime Bida thing to rely on divine intervention to give us the justice we deserve: if this is an allegory, it’s one we cannot afford.
Next year, Kathryn Bernardo is starring in Elena, 1944 where she’ll play a comfort woman during the Japanese occupation. I can’t wait for men to be the subject of female rage. I hope that she gets to do what Philo wouldn’t.
A Very Good Girl is not a perfect film. Its script could use a lot more focus and its ending isn’t something everyone can get behind. But its stellar performances from its leads and supporting cast, sumptuous visuals, and Vargas’ updated sensibilities make the trip to the theater worth it. And if this signals the arrival of a new era for Star Cinema, it warrants our support to assert that we are all for this change.
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