Jose Javier Reyes' Working Girls is a disappointment. Just like the counterfeit bags one of Reyes' characters peddles to her internet clients, the film hardly matches the 1984 Ishmael Bernal satire with the same title that it supposedly updates. Even if independently assessed of Bernal's acclaimed urban comedy, Working Girls is still an unforgivably incoherent, annoyingly shallow, and ultimately pointless exercise. In an interview, Reyes admits that this film was made as a sort of tribute to Bernal and Amado Lacuesta, screenwriter of the 1984 comedy. Given Reyes' intentions for writing and directing this update of Bernal's classic, I can only conclude that this films' biggest achievement is that it will inevitably raise awareness of the existence of Bernal's film, and hopefully gain for it more followers.
Perhaps my displeasure for Reyes' film is a tad exaggerated. Reyes, I admit, is a very smart and able writer whose gift for gab translates very well both on the page and on screen. Also, Reyes may perhaps be one of the few Filipino filmmakers who can translate middle-class woes and aspirations into commercially accessible films. For example, Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo (2006) has a middle-class wife fitting into her husband's affluent family. The result is probably one of the funniest and truest domestic comedies in the past few years. Unfortunately, its sequel, Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo (2007) feels more like an undercooked rehash of what made Kasal feel sincere notwithstanding its glossy mainstream trappings. Reyes' Working Girls, I again admit, is not a total disaster. There are portions of the film that are absolutely lovely, some are even heartbreaking. However, these scarce nuggets of what Reyes' brilliant mind can come up with are immediately drowned by the film's tedious attempt to match Lacuesta's inimitable wit.
In Bernal's Working Girls, the rich and handsome boss catches his secretary (Carmi Martin, who plays a secretary who dreams of ending up with one of her wealthy bosses) talking to her best friend on the phone about how she has fallen for her boss (she screams the film's most famous line, "Sabel, this must be love!). Her boss calls her to his office, asks her to note down his dictations which turn out to be his declaration of love to her. When she realizes that, she throws away her notepad and pen, and jumps to her boss, now her lover, in glee. Lacuesta is undeniably gifted in conjuring these scenes that are memorable not only because of the humorous outrageousness of the situations his characters find themselves into but also because these outrageous situations actually reflect a reality Filipinos can only admit in between laughs and chuckles.
Borrowing several of the characters from the original and using them as linkages for the new women whose lives he momentarily explores, Reyes actually manages to juggle both continuity with Bernal's film and his own authorial fulfillment together. Actually, there's a certain enjoyment in seeing how the original characters have placed themselves more than two decades after their various escapades; however, this enjoyment is completely lost when it turns out that Lacuesta's characters have basically turned into either caricatures (Martin's gold-digging, Botox-addicted cougar; and Gina Pareno's boisterous mother-in-law) or wallflowers (Rio Locsin's token doting mother).
newly-concocted characters, unlike the original working girls who were located
There basically lies the problem with Reyes' update. Reyes' Working Girls is a film that struggles with its own indulgences. In his reckless effort to portray the current situation of women in the labor force in all aspects and facets, mapping out each and every possible niche that women have tried to penetrate, he has achieved really nothing. This is because the film is mostly composed of skits that are tied together by a filament of a plot that is far too convoluted to be taken seriously. Sure, there are scenes which may be brilliantly written (the jeepney ride wherein Paula and her driver (Ricky Davao) start to get to know each other's stories and slowly fall in love is a well-acted and well-directed sequence, only to be betrayed by a subversion to crass and unneeded humor; similarly, Tere's private conversation with her patient about the latter's sadness is somewhat touching), but the entirety of the film is nothing more than a loosely weaved collage of uninteresting curiosities and farfetched generalizations.
Bernal's Working Girls, released during Ferdinand Marcos' volatile regime, works because beneath its stories is a reflection of an economy that is extrinsically booming but is internally depleted, with its work force relying on other methods to escape the well-dressed and perfumed rut they are trapped in. There is nothing of that depth in this sequel. As it turns out, Reyes' Working Girls, if I may be permitted to use the now-famous words of character actress Cherie Gil (who plays another snooty rich girl in this film) in Emmanuel Borlaza's Bituing Walang Ningning (A Star Without Shine, 1985), is nothing more "but a second-rate, trying hard copycat." I have a feeling, Reyes himself probably agrees.
Cross-published on Lessons From the School of Inattention.