Rant and Rave: Confessions of ‘A Very Good Girl’

Director Petersen Vargas breaks the mold of Philippine cinema with a film that draws attention to class struggle wrapped in layers of dark humor and campy elements.

How the f*** does a film like A Very Good Girl even exist? 

Slapped with an R-13 rating by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, A Very Good Girl doesn’t hold back with profanity and dark discussions of morality. Throughout its two-hour run time, the film compels its viewers to tread on divisive ground. Also, its non-linear storytelling structure can leave unattentive viewers puzzled. 

These might as well be walking red flags for a studio executive. The film is so brash and unapologetic with its voice and identity that it sticks out from the high-profile romantic comedies of yesteryear. And though profit-driven studios like Star Cinema would conventionally not even dare to touch such a film, they still did it with the confidence to make it the opening salvo of their 30th anniversary celebration.

But the burning question remains: did gambling on A Very Good Girl actually pay off?

Call me mother

With their talents palpable from every pixel of the screen, the cast is at their most magnetic and arresting in the film. First on the call sheet, Kathryn Bernardo exudes confidence and youthful charisma right from the first frame. But her versatility shines right through as she unveils the true motives and attitude of her character Philomena Angeles, whose mission is to topple a prestigious chain of big-budget malls owned by a certain Molly Suzara. From then on, the audience is taken on a rollercoaster ride of tense and emotional moments surrounding Philomena, with Bernardo’s presence making it a fun and smooth excursion.

The other lead of this epic two-hander is internationally acclaimed actress Dolly de Leon, who plays the despicable Molly Suzara, queen of the sprawling empire of Mother Malls. Previously known for her subdued and naturalistic acting, de Leon fascinatingly subverts expectations by breathing life into Molly’s bizarre antics while embodying the darker underbelly of her jolly persona. De Leon’s enthusiasm to get out of her comfort zone is extremely apparent, making her an absolute joy to watch.

The supporting cast also hold their own against these acting titans. Donna Carriaga surprisingly becomes the heart of the movie as Karen, Philo’s long-time friend and accomplice who doubles as her moral compass. Her nuanced portrayal suits her character: a mother who resorts to shady antics to secure her daughter a nice and comfortable future. Chie Filomeno also stands out as one of Molly Suzara’s confidantes, Zab, who is a grating yet endearing fashionista socialite à la Paris Hilton. Her unworldly mannerisms and vocal fry perfectly contrast the film’s increasingly dark tone. 

The only thorn among the roses, Jake Ejercito lacks the power to entice the audience into rooting for him—a botched attempt that worked well for the film. By painting a character who is ultimately a creep masquerading as an honorable and decent man, the film intelligently uses this unnerving dose of testosterone to point out the horrific effects of the patriarchy on women.

She’s killing it

A Very Good Girl confidently flaunts its impeccable craftsmanship. Molly’s Mother Mall has a soft pastel look that reels the viewer into a hyper feminine world. In contrast, the sets would gradually darken until its nighttime finale, which takes place in dimly neon-lit rooms. Memorable visuals are sprinkled throughout the film, largely due to the film’s color palette, aesthetic, and lighting decisions.

The props on set also make for an iconic picture. The sought-after statuette at the start of the film devolves into a twisted instrument that aims to dehumanize Bernardo’s character. Also, the consistent dartboard motif plastered on Philomena’s room yields imagery that is certainly etched in the minds of its viewers. 

Most notably, the film’s editing is brisk, swift, and economical. Showy editing is typically frowned upon, but for A Very Good Girl, the stylistic choice sets the eccentric and chaotic tone that the film commits to. The shot choices and timing cues make the editing as tight as it can be while providing emotional moments to deliver a powerful impact that the film truly embodies.

Pretty in pink

At its core, A Very Good Girl is a product of Philippine arthouse cinema. The audience is greeted with bold artistic decisions, one after the other, that keep them on the edge of their seats. This does not come as a surprise with Director Petersen Vargas being captain of the ship, the same mind behind the dark coming-of-age drama 2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten. Vargas successfully translates the urgency, creativity, and wit in his previous features into this new film. 

The movie doesn’t miss with its amusing delivery of dark humor, in which one can’t help but laugh at all the jokes, despite having a tinge of guilt from chuckling at objectively horrific situations. It easily earns the title of a bonafide camp classic; the hyper feminine makeup and flowing pastry gowns add to this effect as the film teeters to absurdity. 

It also intelligently summons a wide array of pop culture references in its arsenal, such as former president Gloria Arroyo’s infamous wheelchair publicity stunt that had her don a neck brace. Despite the numerous tools it has in its shed, the film still cleverly practices self-restraint in employing them. This makes the references digestible and accessible for mainstream audiences, allowing the campiness to add to—rather than take away from—the overall style and feel of the movie.

Fortunately, the entertainment value doesn’t sacrifice the thematic heft of the picture. A Very Good Girl is ultimately a rumination of feminine power within systems that are built to marginalize women. The film holds up the potential of its story to explore how women navigate capitalist institutions and reconcile them with their already jaded moral compass. As the film suspensefully builds on the plot, it culminates into a cathartic finale that would surely keep audiences biting their nails.

One more chance

However, the film still suffers from some half-baked ideas. This all typically relates to de Leon’s Molly, the character being A Very Good Girl’s greatest missed opportunity. Her characterization feels inconsistent and her decisions are not aligned with what the film established her to be. With a performer of caliber like de Leon, the film would extremely benefit from making Molly a woman of depth and nuance, which could have further blurred the lines of morality.

Nonetheless, A Very Good Girl epitomizes the execution of pure, unadulterated vision. No-holds-barred social commentaries on class and femininity await those who wish to watch it. Its unique blend of camp, humor, and fun makes it one of the best cinematic experiences one may encounter at the multiplex.

The film ultimately marks an important milestone in Philippine cinema, as it signals the start of braver and more auteur-driven pictures by talents at the height of their careers. Hopefully, the confidence that Star Cinema has on the film is replicated in future endeavors.

A Very Good Girl is a glorious return to form for the film industry; the future of moviemaking is bright—and indeed very good.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Andy Jaluague

By Andy Jaluague

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