English Only, Please – One Big Hugot

Whenever we are reminded of our bittersweet past – particularly with that-person-who-must-not-be-named – Filipinos have a tendency to mention the all too common expression: hugot.

We dig deep into our innermost being, recalling experiences ala psychotherapy Freudian style. English Only, Please is a movie that explores the Filipino hugot. It does so by mostly forgoing traditional formulas of FIlipino romantic comedies, rather taking inspiration from more internet meme worthy experiences that we see too often in Facebook and Twitter. For words like hugot, motmot, nosebleed and whatever known Filipino jargon we see and hear in everyday Filipino pop culture – English Only, Please pokes fun at these narratives. It does so by remaining down to earth in its interpretation of the not-so-modern Filipino relationship.

The duo of Derek Ramsey and Jennylyn Mercado was unexpected. Honestly when I first saw the trailer, I was skeptical if their chemistry could be brought to – at least – workable levels. Last time I saw Derek Ramsey in a romantic film, it was from those secret affair themed movies that didn’t really do wonders for him. In those films, he was pretty much just a walking hunk of plot device only to exist as a cause for conflict between two women. He was not really a character per se. Heck, it would have probably been more entertaining if we just replaced Derek Ramsey with a bank account, and the two women turned into Jews.

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Just imagine the hilarity if No Other Woman was about two Jews fighting over a bank account instead. Racist, but hilarious!

But kidding aside, Derek Ramsey’s portrayal of Julian Parker was actually pretty convincing. His acting was very natural, it’s as if that audiences were really seeing a Filipino-American that has no knowledge of Filipino customs whatsoever. Jennylyn Mercado’s portrayal of Tere Madlansacay was well done too. We already know that Jennylyn has this kikay side, and to portray a kikay character in the movie was probably not too difficult her. Of course, we always see kikay characters in local movies. What makes Tere Madlansacay different from the generic kikays of Philippine Cinema is that she doesn’t bank so much on over-the-top acting. Jennylyn Mercado gives us a character that we can actually relate with. Just like any other Filipina, Tere Madlansacay shares the same struggles and imperfections that we are all too familiar.

The two personalities just click. Not necessarily because they had the right chemistry, but because Tere Madlansacay and Julian Parker are seen slowly building each other’s characters for the better. Unlike other films, English Only, Please does not give us a guy-needs-girl or girl-needs-guy sort of narrative. These tropes are outdated, and have been saturated already by not-so-wonderful romantic comedies. The movie gives us – instead – two characters willing to learn the complexities of love; no matter the consequences.

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And love is definitely complicated. Just ask this love guru, even he’s confused about it.

English Only, Please knows very well when to make audiences laugh, and when to give them the feels. Unlike Praybeyt Benjamin 2, the movie doesn’t choose to bank on outlandish humor. For most of the movie’s jokes, comedy is based on circumstance. A character gives out the perfect timing to be witty or sarcastic, and fate – or should I say, the movie’s screenplay – wonderfully puts all the chess pieces into place. The events portrayed just work out for movie, enriching the narrative and driving it into deeper levels. For a movie with a simple plot, execution matters – and English Only, Please executes its story wonderfully so.

The movie has its flaws, such as that there are some scenes where things become too cheesy for its own good. It would have also been nice if the movie went deeper with Julian Parker’s frustrations, instead of focusing too much on Tere Madlansacay. Nonetheless, such flaws did not necessarily affect the overall narrative. In fact, they were pretty subtle if viewed by an average audience. This is because the movie knows its strengths, and focuses on it for the entire screen time.

English Only, Please is one of the few gems that you could see in the current list of MMFF films. It definitely deserves the awards and distinctions that it has received so far. Derek Ramsey and Jennylyn Mercado are great actors – not because they were the best, but because they were able to relate their characters so well with its audience; and they were able to do so in the most natural way possible. Its narrative may be simple – and falls short of truly innovating romantic comedy. Yet, English Only, Please is like a simple cake that’s well done – and its simple but well executed story line is what makes it work!

It is this fact alone, that I’d give the movie a 7/10 overall score. English Only, Please would take you to familiar romantic comedy cliches, but twist it in an inherently Filipino experience. You will fall in love with Tere Madlansacay’s bubbly character, and you will find it cute to see Julian Parker try to familiarize himself with Filipino pop culture and jargon. For most of the movie though, you will follow the two characters into a journey that untangles the complexities of love – admitting to yourself that to a certain extent, we are all Julian Parkers and Tere Madlansacays. We are all idiots in love.

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