There is a very pivotal scene that happens very early in ‘A Very Good Girl’ that tells us we are in the presence of a superstar: Kathryn Bernardo, as her character Philo, has just insinuated herself into the world of the ultra-rich shopping mall matriarch Mother Molly (played by Dolly De Leon) and after days, maybe even weeks, of playing suck up and kiss ass, she finally comes home and begins to take out her makeup. Throughout the long intro that established the world and the campy tone of the film, both Barnardo and De Leon are bedecked in expensive clothes and heavy makeup and have spent last ten or so minutes showing off to each other, Bernardo as Philo starts to wipe her face clean, and we begin to see that this is a character with so many layers. The campiness is stripped away only to reveal a very real anger that drives the narrative of ‘A Very Good Girl’ hurtling forward. It’s an anger that Bernardo wears and hides beneath Philo’s sweet and endearing exterior. What makes it even more impressive is that Bernardo then brings this anger and takes it with her as she returns into the world of camp.
If ‘Hello, Love, Goodbye’ did not already prove Kathryn Bernardo has all the trappings of an excellent actress, then ‘A Very Good Girl’ will remove all question of it. If there’s anything director Petersen Vargas does well is to take the bonkers script of Marianne Dominque Mancol, Jonathan Albano, and Daniel Saniana and use it to showcase all of Kathyn Bernardo’s strengths. This is her movie through and through and it’s a great way to announce the full range of Bernardo’s abilities.
The movie, in of itself, is a demanding movie for all its campy craziness. It asks of us to care and invest in Philo, as she thrusts headfirst into the dangerous game of revenge. Vargas and the writers are not averse to taking their lead character into the dark corners of Philo’s psyche – a place that Bernardo handles very well – but by doing so, our protagonist starts to skirt the same lines that her target, the deliciously evil Mother Molly, also operates in. ‘A Very Good Girl’ works within that framework that if you fight fire with fire, you can burn everything down during the battle.
At the onset of the movie, it goes straight into the heat of it all. Without any introductions, Philo is already making her moves to get into Mother Molly’s good graces. The film takes no time to let us into that world. We hit the ground running. As Philo engages in psychological warfare against Mother Molly and everyone around her, we only then start to discover who she really is and why she’s on a warpath.
This is where the movie needs to reel it in. Early on, it enters a flashback that takes a little too long (it felt like ten or twelve minutes, and it could have been shorten to just the necessary story beats and left to a solid five minutes) and it is these flashbacks that kill the pacing of the film and tries to justify the mayhem that will ensue. At every turn, the film tries to differentiate Philo and Mother Molly (Mother Molly is evil while Philo is just driven to this) but the film also takes a lot of enjoyment when Philo begins to break Mother Molly’s world apart.
The first set up includes many scene-stealing moments from Chie Filomeno, who does a hilarious parody of every rich socialite, influencer and builds some really strong laugh out loud moments that can serve as the peak of the comic tone of the film. As the film progresses, it gets darker and darker. The laughs are fewer and far between each other as Vargas starts to twist things. He creates a moment of humanity for Mother Molly – these moments are when Dolly De Leon really shines, when she finds these soft, vulnerable moments for the evil character she is portraying – and then he plays into the conflicted state of Philo’s head. Is she pushing through with her revenge or has Mother Molly become a mother figure?
This is what I enjoyed most about ‘A Very Good Girl’ and it is by how it didn’t go to where I thought it would. From the beginning I was fighting everything about it because it wasn’t going the way I thought it should – it’s a Star Cinema movie and it has Kathryn Bernardo and it’s a revenge story, why isn’t it going this way? Why is it going this way? – and it was when I finally let go and let the movie be what it was that I started to really enjoy it.
The film settles itself in a strange place that is camp but also satire. It plays off of our exaggerated ideas about the rich (they were gowns and jewelry at home, the way by which they look down on people) while emphasizing how distorted and broken our justice system is that people with money always get away with everything (a hilarious scene involving a neck brace brought out one of loudest laughs in the movie) and all through-out, at the center of it, is a character who has had enough and is taking matters into her own hands and… by every turn, seems to be losing.
‘A Very Good Girl’ is a difficult film to take because it looks like a crazy, campy Star Cinema movie but it really is a jaded and cynical look at the very real and very crazy world we live in today. Surprisingly, the film manages to end with hope, an optimistic turn that isn’t implausible in a Filipino movie (it manages to find its Star Cinema-ness by the end) and it works but it also works if it fully embraced the darkness that had overtaken the film halfway through.
This movie was such a joy for me to watch because it was not what I was expecting (and I loved that), even if it ended the way I think a Star Cinema movie would end. The film was crazy and irreverent, and I thought it could have even pushed it more. But where it went is already a step forward. And at the very center of it all, ‘A Very Good Girl’ is so enjoyable because of Kathryn Bernardo’s commitment to the character and the genre. This is a superstar turn.
Homestream images from ABS-CBN Film Productions Inc. (Star Cinema)