In Name Only

'Working Girls' has turned into nothing more than an overstuffed vehicle for a bunch of recognizable names.

Working Girls is supposedly a sequel to Ishmael Bernal’s groundbreaking 1984 comedy. It even deigns to make mention of the original characters, showing glimpses of their current lives, while shifting the story to a whole new generation of female professionals. But it’s all just surface talk. Get just a little bit deeper into this mess of overlapping stories, and you won’t find much there at all. There aren’t even that many actual working girls.

The movie follows the lives of seven women. Cleo (Eula Valdes) is a celebrity plastic surgeon to the stars under siege by a feminist group. Marilou (Ruffa Gutierrez) is a former beauty queen left helpless when her sugar daddy husband dies and leaves her with almost nothing. Paula (Eugene Domingo) sells fake bags online, and struggles with her good-for-nothing husband. Teresa (Iza Calzado) is a nurse assigned to take care of the wife of a man who hurt her a long time ago. Promo girl Wendy (Cristine Reyes) is looking for love in all the wrong places. Single mom Ada (Jennylyn Mercado) is trying to balance work with her family. And Dara (Bianca King) uses family connections to get a job as a segment producer, and quickly finds that her foreign education and family ties mean nothing to the job.

The problems of the movie are apparent within the first five minutes. The film has trouble juggling the seven characters, each of whom have their own story, setting and supporting characters. The opening cuts between the characters, attempting in vain to quickly establish their place in the grand scheme. But there are just too many stories, the movie losing narrative steam as it shifts from one character to another. A couple of the characters end up neglected and forgotten, their stories dying from lack of screen time. It might have been better to have just cut them out completely. In the end, the movie doesn’t even resolve its plotlines, seemingly content with leaving its conflicts dangling.

And though the movie will undoubtedly benefit from the legacy of Ishmael Bernal’s dark comedy and the simple name-recognition, the film does little to stay true to the spirit and tone of the original picture. It didn’t need to be faithful or anything, but a movie called “Working Girls” ought to at least be about professional women going about their work. Bernal’s film was a tragically subversive film, a treatise on the draconian lengths that women may have to go through to advance in the professional world. But the workplace doesn’t really figure into this version’s outlook, many of the stories having little to do with actual work. Ada, for example, is ostensibly a call center agent. But outside of the brief glimpse of her at a cubicle in the first five minutes, her story doesn’t actually have much to do with her job. It is mentioned that she has trouble seeing her son due to her work, but it’s a conflict that never gets addressed. It’s really weird that we don’t get to see most of these characters do any sort of work.

The cast is large and unwieldy, though there are still a few standouts. Eugene Domingo predictably steals the show, backed up heavily by the always-reliable Ricky Davao. The two get the movie’s most memorable scenes, which they play with unabashed gusto. Though they’re given an ostensibly story arc, they give their characters a palpable humanity that overcomes the broadness of the comedy. Cherie Gil has a captivating bit part that provides a couple of explosive moments. The rest of the cast has trouble making a mark with the little time they’re given.

This movie just seems to be cashing in on a legacy that it has no claim to. It’s another generic omnibus film, featuring the stars of today in half-baked plots that don’t get any resolution. Though the film might have a couple of decent scenes scattered within (borne largely from a game cast), it ultimately has little to say, and nothing to add to the ideas set forward over twenty-five years ago. Working Girls has turned into nothing more than an overstuffed vehicle for a bunch of recognizable names. I bear no reverence for titles or franchises, but this still feels like a step too far.

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