Juana C: The Movie brings Mae Paner’s politically-minded Internet alter-ego to the big screen. The transition from short videos to full-length feature film is kind of rough, the extra length taking away much of the sharpness of the character’s brand of satire. But in the end, the same spirit carries through. Juana C: The Movie can be quite a jumble at times, but it manages to press on through sheer will of belief. It is a hopeful, happy movie that’s just infectious enough to keep things from completely going off the rails.
Juana (Mae Paner) hails from a small tribal town in Northern Luzon, and unlike her two other classmates, has no dreams beyond taking it easy after school. When the class valedictorian ends up in a toxic river, Juana is sent to take her place as a scholar in an exclusive Manila university. Juana is enticed into the world of the upper class, and is soon spending above her means to keep up her image. To alleviate her debt, she enters the world of high-class prostitution. Her manager-cum-boyfriend Yani (John James Uy) introduces Juana to his mother, who is the number one escort in the Philippines. She turns Juana into her protégé, giving her access to the most powerful individuals in the country.
Soon enough, Juana is witness to all sorts of illicit dealings, and ends up developing a social conscience. This might seem trite at first, but the film isn’t really making any specific points about corruption in the country. It’s looking at the bigger picture, crafting a satirical vision of the Philippines that is completely mired in absurdity. The corruption in the film is rooted in reality, but taken to a clownish level. If there is a real target, it is the apathetic populace. The film, in its most lucid moments, depicts a people drowning in self-interest, unable to free themselves from the shackles of status and acquisition.
The film is pretty unfocused, but affably so. It draws from a deep reservoir of humor, and though not all of it hits, there’s certainly enough of it for everyone. The film can be loud and bawdy, but it also makes some room for subtlety and satire. But the film’s lack of focus does make it feel disjointed. The transition between scenes can be jarring, and some of the relationships in the film aren’t developed well enough. It also appears that the film had to compromise a lot to hit its R-16 rating, and that only adds to the choppiness of the experience.
But what it lacks in focus is repaid in enthusiasm. There’s a manic energy to the entire picture, and it holds the film together even when things kind of fall apart. The cast provides much of this energy, with the talented Mae Paner serving as the primary source. Juana is buffoonish but sympathetic, the actress fully committed to the character’s initial cluelessness. It’s a great comedic performance that only serves to empower the rest of the cast.
Juana C: The Movie is kind of a mess, but it’s a winning mess. It has a plucky spirit, a happy “let’s-make-a-movie” kind of vibe. The film wins you over because there’s no cynicism involved. It’s all terribly sincere, the people behind the movie clearly believing that there is indeed hope left in this country, and that all it will really take is for the people to band together and stand against corruption. Perhaps it isn’t the most sophisticated one can take in this world of complex morals. But maybe that kind of sophistication is overrated. This is a flawed movie that has a good heart. And that’s worth recommending.