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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.

Oct 29, 2019


‘ISA PA WITH FEELINGS’ is commendable for its plea for normal people to have a better understanding of the plight of deaf people and we really wish it performed better at the box office. The material reminds us of “Children of a Lesser God”, which it pays tribute to with the movie’s poster shown in one scene (along with the Ukrainian film, “The Tribe” which we’ve never seen.) It’s about an instructor in a school for the deaf, William Hurt, who falls in love with a young deaf woman, Marleen Matlin who’s really deaf in real life and won the 1986 Oscar best actress award.

In “Isa Pa”, it’s Carlo Aquino as Gali who’s a teacher at a school for the deaf and he himself is deaf. Maine Mendoza as Mara becomes one of his students as she wants to learn sign language for her deaf niece. Carlo happens to be her next door neighbor in the condo building where she lives. It’s no brainer to conclude that they will eventually fall in love with each other.

The film’s main conflict is in Gali, who gets scared that their relationship will not succeed, just like what happened to his previous relationship with a hearing girl, Arci Munoz in a cameo. There’s a bit of a confrontation where Maine calls him a coward and this knocks some sense into his head, allays his anxiety, and they reconcile. The end.

There is a lot to admire in this movie, like the way it uses the hit song “Buwan” to advantage. In particular, we appreciate the way director Prime Cruz presented some scenes in full silence to immerse the moviegoers into the world of the deaf so they can experience and understand vividly what Carlo as Gali is going through. If this were the only intentions of the movie, then it certainly accomplished what it aimed to do.

But moviemaking is, first and foremost, a business and we’re sure the producers also want it to be a big box office hit. As we all know now, it performed less than expected at the tills, specially when compared to Maine’s ka-love team’s movie with another partner that ended up as the biggest blockbuster in local cinema history.

In terms of being more commercially acceptable, “Isa Pa” certainly lacks the usual narrative embellishments, particularly for local viewers who want more intriguing, circuitous melodrama in their film fare.

The story of “Isa Pa” is so simple and the way it’s told is even more simplistic. Sorry to compare it to “Children of a Lesser God” (which was based on a play), whose conflict is definitely much more involving. In it, the teacher wants the deaf girl fo be able to read lips and speak phonetically, but she doesn’t want to. She’s already satisfied with speaking using sign language and she says if he truly loves her, he should then just learn how to accept and embrace her for what she is. Tough love.

This is where a more commercially conscious director will surely embroider the plotting to make it more engrossing. Box office guru Cathy Molina is an expert in this. In “Hello Love Goodbye”, the main protagonists don’t end up with each other but the way their story (about OFW’s, which has been told before in several other films) is told caters to what escapist viewers look for in the romances they watch, complete with all the cheesy hugot lines they’ve learned to expect.

In “Isa Pa”, the lead characters end up with each other, but after the no frills dance number they did as the film’s climax, the movie suddenly ends and the final credits are shown. As one “bitin” moviegoer behind us remarked: “Ay, ganun lang?”

In fairness to Carlo and Maine, they both deliver very credible performances, specially Carlo who has the more challenging role as the deaf lead actor with all his feelings of fear and insecurity. Also, Carlo is actually 10 years older than Maine, but he doesn’t look it at all.

There are other elements introduced in the script that could have been mined for the movie to have a bit of more involving complications but which they failed to mine, like Maine’s relationship with her very supportive family members, who were all suddenly dropped and never heard of again.

Another crucial element is her quest to pass the board exams for architects, which she failed on her first try and depressed her a lot. We’re hoping Carlo’s character will serve as an inspiration for her to take the exam again and her ultimately passing it would somehow be another “kilig” highlight of the movie. Again, no such thing happened. An opportunity missed indeed.

We’re starting to wonder if they were so pressed for time to meet the movie’s playdate that they were no longer able to shoot other pivotal scenes that will help make it more exciting to watch. Too bad for Maine as the movie’s not so impressive performance at the box office has somewhat affected her bankability when she’s one of our most sought after endorsers.

There are even those who now say that “si Alden pala talaga ang nagdadala ng love team nila”, which is unfair since it takes two to make a tandem work.

And we’re wondering where all her fans went? They’re some of the fiercest and protective fans we know and we thought they have the clout to make Maine’s movie a real megahit. But where are they when Maine needed as the movie was shown?

Also, let’s face it, her movie was not as well as promoted as Alden’s. The film’s lackluster box office performance becomes even more glaring since we’re coming from the huge success of a junkable comedy, “Jowable”, which grossed more than P100 with non-stars in it.