Film review: The Gifted Dark comedy with a clever twist

Mario E. Bautista - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Gifted shows how important it is to have a good cast. Its offbeat humor is not your usual slapstick kind of local comedy. But for this type of dark comedy to really work, it needs actors who are willing to push the boundaries and can afford to be both ludicrous and sympathetic.

In The Gifted, Anne Curtis, Cristine Reyes and Sam Milby are given the latitude to do some fun stuff with their characters while also playing to their strengths. The movie is a wickedly cold-hearted tale of jealousy and revenge, a clever dark comedy with a twist which we won’t dare discuss here so as not to spoil your viewing pleasure. Watch it, then tell us if you saw it coming. We didn’t. Not right away. But if you’d go back to the opening scene that frames the story...

Ostensibly, The Gifted is about the rivalry of two friends from grade school, the rich girl Zoe Tuason (Anne Curtis) and the working class Aica Tabayoyong (Cristine Reyes). Both highly intelligent, Zoe is grossly overweight (Anne wears a fat suit like Gwyneth Paltrow in Shallow Hal) and Aica is plain ugly so they’re both outcasts who have no choice but to gravitate toward each other. Sadly, the friendship eventually turns to hatred when Zoe becomes envious of Aica’s being always No. 1 in class. It will go to absurd proportions when Zoe manipulates a handsome classmate, Mark (Sam Milby), to distract Aica from her studies. Failing in this, she resorts to violence and even tries to kill Aica later on. 

The movie is reminiscent of such dark comedies as Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her where Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn are the rivals, and George Cukor’s Rich and Famous where Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen are the rivals.

The reason The Gifted works so well is that writer-director Chris Martinez succeeds in getting uniformly excellent performances from the whole cast, from the leads Anne, Cristine and Sam to the supporting cast, mainly the parents: Arlene Muhlach and Ricky Rivero as Anne’s pushy oversized parents, and Candy Pangilinan and Dominic Ochoa as Cristine’s parents from whom she gets her unruly bushy eyebrows and crooked teeth. The two girls who played Anne and Cristine as grade schoolers should also be commended.

This is Sam’s most outstanding performance in his entire career. He is not only well-photographed here and comes out every inch the perfect-looking leading man, but he also does so well delivering all his Tagalog lines with a Visayan accent.

Cristine manages to be truly sympathetic as the ugly, geeky Aica. We particularly like her in that restaurant scene where she asks Anne with tears effortlessly flowing down her cheeks: “Hindi mo ba ako talaga minahal bilang kaibigan?” Her showdown with Anne is one of the most riotous catfights in local cinema, filmed like an overstaged production number reminiscent of Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie trying to outshoot each other in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

But there’s no doubt that The Gifted is Anne’s movie. As the scheming uber bitch and snarling selfish protagonist who has no interest in anyone but herself, she convincingly revels in getting the opportunity to make “sabog ng lagim” all over the place. Her mean-spirited lunacy sizzles in so many scenes, enacting them with cartoon meanness especially in those scenes where she does the vilest and most brazen things without remorse. It’s reminiscent of the Max character in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore which is obviously a source of inspiration for Chris.

But mind you, things may not be what they seem. So don’t be fooled and don’t leave the theater right away once the end credits start rolling. Just like in his Kimmy Dora 3 where the off-kilter epilogue spoofed the Metro-Manila Filmfest awards night, direk Chris (whose Here Comes the Bride, I Do Bidoo and 100 we really enjoyed) has something else is in store for you, where everything that transpires before is weirdly turned upside down. And we wonder how local audiences will respond to this final and cynical revelation where all the characters turn out to be outsiders and is definitely a departure from the more commonly accepted feel-good ending? It pulls the rug from under a seemingly neat and happy ending. Which will viewers prefer: Reality or fantasy? Getting an R-13 rating because this is definitely not a comedy for kids with its cuss words and sexual content, only an insane local filmmaker like Chris Martinez can pull off this satirical trick and we’re glad Viva Entertainment backed him and gave him the green light in taking his risky comic premise right to the very edge.

The technical credits are mostly superior. Kudos to those responsible for the prosthetics used to make Cristine ugly and Anne, fat; the production designers who did the intricate Rube Goldberg contraptions; the consistently wonderful cinematography of Gary Gardoce and the terrific musical score of Teresa Barrozo.

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