Review: Olivia Lamasan's THE MISTRESS
When JD (John Lloyd Cruz), an architect who is wrestling with the prospect of being the heir to his despised father's businesses, discovers that Sari (Bea Alonzo), the girl he's been trying so hard to woo, is also the kept mistress of his father (Ronaldo Valdez), he decides to discontinue his plans of winning the girl's heart out of disgust and disdain. He then unexpectedly gets a glimpse of Sari's finer qualities that also lured his father to loving her. This gets him drawn further into her, making him fall desperately in love with her to the point of battling with his own father to win the undivided affections of the woman they unwillingly share.
The film only has impressions of complexity. Lamasan and Valdez are more interested in the tearful tragedies of a truncated romance rather than the more thrilling intricacies of characterization. As a result, the characters are solely motivated by amorous passions, despite the sliver and hints of darkness in their narrative arcs. The Mistress has traces of a film with more valid and realistic psychological undertones, with people acting and reacting not solely with their needy hearts but with their brains, hormones, and stomachs. With its interplay of classic archetypes interacting within a setting of familial and corporate power struggle, it could have been something more than the syrupy weeper that it is.
However, to expect more depth and sophistication than necessary from a studio film is utter folly. The Mistress mostly succeeds in delivering what it advertises --- a glossy display of heavily orchestrated romantic entanglements of the extremely rich and goodlooking as only a studio can come up with. Its efforts in glamorizing the courtship game with the leads' unabashed delivery of bathetic declarations of love during plentiful serendipitous encounters pay off. Cruz and Alonzo play both the roles of joyous lovers and tragic victims of fate effortlessly. It is simply not difficult to get drawn to their characters' plights, to get absorbed in their individual dramas, to get swept away in their hopeless hearts' ambitions.
The film's ending is delightfully ingenious, making use of a previous fantasy set-up to evoke as an impossible dream the scenario that is the happy ending a cynical realist is dreading. It is achingly realistic without being too melancholic. Despite the endeavor for realism in its conclusion, The Mistress is still not dark enough. Its characters, from the family-loving mistress to the apologetic wife, are too good-natured and amiable. Its attempts at sensuality are limited to choreographed seductions within the cramped space of a fitting room or lousily-filmed lovemaking under the spell of a Snow Patrol radio-hit. Although wrapped with a tad more grit and tragedy, the film still peddles the all too familiar fantasy of love conquers all that audiences are too willing to gobble up mindlessly. It aims to simply please. And that, I believe, is the both the film's biggest strength and downfall.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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