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MOVIE REVIEW: Focused on the laughs, ‘Fruitcake’ forgets to land its punch

Wanggo reviews ‘Fruitcake,’ an ensemble comedy featuring a big cast and ambitious storytelling.

Comedy is a tricky genre to execute. The subjectivity of humor is one thing, but as the joke goes: “the secret to comedy is timing.” Joel Ferrer’s ‘Fruitcake’ is a big ensemble comedy with a great big cast – Joshua Garcia, Ria Atayde, KD Estrada, Victor Anastacio, Alex Diaz, Enchong Dee, Heaven Paralejo, Dominic Ochoa and so much more – and a big story of a group of people whose lives are at the crux of a great big change. There’s some inspiration taken from the three stanzas of the Eraserheads song of the same name (and you can tell because Yeng Constantino sings a cover at some point in the movie), and the film tries to present a myriad of characters who are struggling against the ebb and flow of life and the film tries to find the humor in these stories. And this is where it gets tricky because while some are a laughing matter, others are not, and the ways by which this film unfolds makes it a little difficult to find something that grounds all of this together.

Joshua Garcia plays Cardo, a young man who is going to Manila to work and to reunite with his ex-girlfriend Diane (Heaven Paralejo), who has gone ahead to study. But Diane has moved on and she’s now with an older man, Senator Sam (Dominic Ochoa), who is the target of some student activists Chad and Dax (Alex Diaz and Markus Peterson). Dax sells weed to Jolo and Jagson (KD Estrada and Noel Comia Jr) so that the two boys can get to hang with some rich girls. Jagson is the brother of Ospret (Victor Anastacio, who is working hard to support his brother and his father, who is suffering from dementia (or Alzheimer’s). While Jenny (Ria Atayde) has just discovered she got pregnant with her co-worker Poch (Empoy Marquez) after a one-night stand.

The stories themselves are loosely interconnected and the first trouble they have is finding a thematic line to jump from one story to the other. Since each character’s struggles are thematically different from any other character, there’s no real easy transition from one story to the next. Oftentimes, director Joel Ferrer stays too long on one character before moving to the next that it creates a disjointed rhythm to the movie.

And the way their stories get complicated are uneven but at some point, we are all made to find humor in them and then later, to take them seriously, which is hard balancing act to juggle. Jenny considers abortion and enters a debate with her brother Diego (Enchong Dee), who is a priest and is against it. Jolo freaks out because he’s scared that he’ll be caught with the weed he just bought while Chad and Dax get high, kiss, and freak out that they might be gay. Diane is in a relationship with an older man who is married while Ospret discovers all the work he’s doing has taken a dangerous toll on him.

Source: Cornerstone Studios FB

The film opens topics like abortion, homophobia, drug use, filial obligations, depression but never really gets deep into any of them to really give any satisfying exploration of these topics that are brought up. Some treatments can be a little uncomfortable like the way Chad and Dax deal with discovering that they may be gay. These are rich kids and activists and, if anything, they’d be the first to not sweat the possibility of being queer. As a teacher, most of my students are open to that possibility and they fit the demographic that Chad and Dax fall under. Of course, there are exceptions to the rules, but without any real sufficient backstory, their story ends up portraying gayness as something so awful without intending to.

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On the flipside, Cardo’s story is the one with the least heavy stakes. It’s such a shame because Joshua Garcia really shines here as the probinsyano (where I feel that his thick probinsyano accent is used for comedy when a provincial accent isn’t really a funny thing?) with the big dream of getting back with his ex and working in an office in Manila. His charm shines through in every scene but the things they make him do just feels off. He brings a chicken to the MRT and it feels reductive. 

The others who end up stealing the show are Victor Anastacio, Ria Atayde, and Enchone Dee. Anastacio manages to infuse Ospret’s world with pathos and the way his story shifts from comedic to dramatic is grounded by Anastacio’s great performance. It’s when he does these subtle jabs at his brother – when he’s not playing for comedy – that he elicits some of the funniest jokes in the movie. Atayde takes the typical story of a woman discovering she’s pregnant and elevates from being a stereotype and she has an interaction with Dee that is so well done and so well performed. It’s a scene in church when Jenny tells her brother she’s pregnant and he shifts from loving brother to strict priest and the interplay between the two cinematic gold.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t manage to have that for each character and set-up. Sometimes, jokes are drawn out too long and could have ended earlier and snappier. Others don’t seem integrated too well into the story, so it feels like a gag that is out of place in the entirety of the movie. And when all is said and done, the film finds an inorganic way to put everyone in the MRT for a finale that feels forced and contrived. But humor is a tricky thing. Some people in the cinema where I was watching were laughing at jokes that I did not find funny (I even found some problematic) but the jokes I was laughing at were met with silence from the rest. At the end of the day, the film sets out to make us laugh but my biggest issue is that the movie is trying to say something too and it feels like the film was too busy making us laugh that it forgets to show more scenes that supported its ending message.

My Rating:



Fruitcake is now showing! Check showtimes and buy tickets here.

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