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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Nov 29, 2016

The Unmarried Wife: Muddled Melodrama About A Foolish Heroine Who Should Know Better But Obviously Doesn't

‘THE UNMARRIED WIFE’ is a blockbuster hit and it’s no surprise since most Filipinos just never get tired of movies about marital infidelity, from the time of “Sapagkat Kami’y Tao Lamang” that catapulted the triumvirate of Lolita and Eddie Rodriguez with Marlene Dauden as the team to beat when it comes to love triangle movies in the 60s and early 70s, to such classics as “Relasyon” and “Sinong Kasiping, Sinong Kapiling”, etc. etc.

The movie stars Angelica Panganiban, who used to be the child of stars in infidelity movies like “Separada”. She now plays Anne, the wife of Dingdong Dantes as Geoff (pronounced here the Filipino way, Joff). The start shows her getting drunk, then a woman suddenly assaults her in the parking. We’re deliberately not informed as to who does this to her, just so they won’t tell the story in the usual linear manner.

In flashbacks, we’re then shown how she and Geoff meet in a cute manner in a coffee shop, fall in love fast and have a beautiful wedding. But the marriage eventually turns sour when Anne is promoted as an advertising executive while Geoff is having problems with his own career, something like what happened to Lorna Tolentino and Richard Gomez in “Hanggang Kailan Kita Mamahalin”, where Angelica also played their child.

Geoff, feeling neglected, cheats with his secretary, and Anne discovers this in flagrante delicto, but she chooses to stay with him for the sake of their son and because she doesn’t want to become like her own mom (Irma Adlawan), who left her and her dad. But she cannot fully forgive Geoff in her heart and feels distant, so Geoff cheats again with Maricar Reyes, with whom Anne has the usual soapy wife-mistress confrontation scene.

Anne, in turn, meets Paulo Avelino as Bryan, who courts her ardently, with her unaware that he has his own domestic problems. He is having his own marriage annulled from his violent bipolar wife (Denise Laurel) who won’t let go of him and desperately wants to patch things up with him. When we’re finally shown who attacked Anne at the film’s start, our reaction is: she just got what she deserves.

There’s nothing in this movie that you haven’t seen in other movies about unfaithful spouses. One thing you realize with movies like these is that people never really learn. You can watch more movies about infidelity and the glaring thing is that “ang mga tao, mahihilig talagang pumasok sa sitwasyong magugulo, kahit alam na nilang magugulo lang ang buhay nila.”

Also, at this day and age, there are so many institutions or agencies that can help married couples to iron out their differences from the moment that their relationship starts to get sour. But these helpful conduits for marital harmony are never featured in the movies as it’s more entertainingly cinematic to show couples messing up their lives and fighting it out on the big screen. No wonder infidelity is an endless source of drama movies that production companies continually regard as a gold mine.

The problem with “The Unmarried Wife” is we find the lead character as someone who does not merit our sympathy. At some points in the movie, we want to boink her on the head to knock some sense into her as she keeps on

making wrong decisions. Her life is a mess because of her own making. We’ve seen many career-driven women who are also successful wives and moms, but she’s obviously not cut out to be one as she seems to be forever victimized willingly in her relationships.

Even the movie itself is a mess and we get so bored after a while, especially with that very manipulative scene in the pizza parlor where Paulo Avelino calls up Angelica while she’s having dinner with Dingdong and their son. In one scene, Angelica says “Kalokohan ‘to”, and we want to readily agree with her that what we’re watching is really a lot of “kalokohan”.

In 1978, Jill Clayburgh got an Oscar nomination for her performance in “An Unmarried Woman”, where she played a happy stockbroker’s wife who is shocked when her husband suddenly left her, and so she finds a way to re-evaluate her life and how to start her life anew. That film rings so true, with us seeing how the heroine’s intelligence battles against her own feelings until she learns how to cope, riding on the wave of female empowerment in that decade. You cannot say the same for “Unmarried Wife”, which, at more than two hours, is more like something convoluted and melodramatic coming out of the Star Cinema factory, with a foolish lead character who should know better but obviously doesn’t.

At one point, the movie presents the views of two mothers, Irma Adlawan (Anne’s mom) who defied conventions and Marina Benipayo (Dingdong’s mom) who believes that society expects more from women and it’s a woman’s role to suffer even when trapped in a failed marriage. But even the male characters are presented as weak-willed, spineless boors, perpetual adolescents who are also hard to sympathize with. The film is so lopsided in its view of males. One male character who could offset this is Anne’s own father. How did he take it when his slutty wife left him for younger men? But sadly, Anne’s dad is never even mentioned.

The script gets so muddled because of so many other unnecessary characters (like Anne’s friends) and issues. We’re informed that Dingdong’s mistress also got pregnant, but then this element is suddenly forgotten and not mentioned ever again, even when it can be a vital element to Anne’s final decision. Unfortunately, no one excels in this film, acting-wise, simply because the characters they play are mere pawns to the engineered and rigged machinations of the plot. This would have been a good character study, but it ends up as a fantasy.

We know this is a negative review but I’m sure they wouldn’t care since they’re laughing all the way to the bank and that’s what really counts the most.