The candidate in My Candidate is Sonny Suarez (Derek Ramsay), a young, hardworking, honest congressman from Bulacan suddenly forced into running for Senate, thanks to a promise made to his father and the efforts of his chief of staff. Sonny, in spite of his merits as a politician, is no good in crowds and in front of the camera. Life coach Billy (Shaina Magdayao) is brought on to help the campaign. Billy attempts to the congressman's image, but sometimes her efforts get in the way of what the congressman wants to accomplish.
This is sort of a romcom, but it is pretty light on romantic content. It is kind of a political satire, but it doesn't quite have the teeth to really be effective in that sense. It basically plays in a fantasy version of Philippine politics, one that largely avoids the dark and truly absurd parts of campaigning. And even if one puts all that aside, the film has trouble generating dramatic tension, the story structured around a premise that makes it difficult to invest in the eventual result once we get to the climax.
But it's a funny film, and it does have some heart. It approaches humor with a very specific sensibility, one that can at times transcend the weaknesses of the premises. In small bursts, the movie is able to deliver hints of strangeness that paradoxically feel grounded in the world we live in. And when it strives to depict the life of a good public servant, when it presents its vision of what a good leader ought to be, the film is actually kind of affecting. When the film gets really earnest, when it puts aside the constructs its plot, it is surprisingly resonant.
But that's just a portion of the movie. The other parts don't work nearly as well. The treatment doesn't quite keep up with the pace of the humor. There are points where it feels like the movie is holding for laughs that have long past. And when the film tries to get romantic, it feels tacked on. The film goes through the motions of having these characters grow to like each other, have a fight, and reunite, but it never feels committed to those elements. And all this hinges on a plot that suffers from a vital flaw.
Right away, the film runs into trouble by depicting a senatorial race. The film awkwardly tries to wring tension out Suarez and a rival fighting over the twelfth seat. It feels like the story was set up for another kind of race, one where candidates face off one-on-one. The structure of local senatorial races doesn’t lend itself to the kind of tension the film is trying to deliver. But even within this flawed setup, the actors mostly deliver. Derek Ramsay really is more effective when he’s allowed to show his kinder side. Shaina Magdayao is really fun when she’s allowed to let loose. And Iza Calzado is just perfect in this film.
My Candidate is deeply flawed as a singular narrative. It’s just structured strangely, its bits not quite fitting together in the end. And the senatorial race becomes a real burden for the film in its climax, where they try to wring tension out of a situation that doesn’t at all feel natural. But there is a case to be made for the film’s fantasy version of our elections, where things can get acrimonious, but never really dirty, where people are ultimately trying their best to be good. The film redeems itself in its most sincere moments, where the laughs come naturally, and the heart shines through.