Film Notes
by Pablo A. Tariman

If Enzo Williams (“Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo”) and Chito Rono (“Feng Shui 2”) are the directors to cheer in the latest edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival, Dan Villegas comes closest with his light romantic comedy, “English Only, Please.”

Jennylyn Mercado and Derek Ramsay trying out a Filipino favorite street food in "English Only, Please."

Jennylyn Mercado and Derek Ramsay trying out a Filipino favorite street food in “English Only, Please.”

Owing to the nature of the material, the other big credit goes to its scriptwriters, Antoinette Jadaone and Anj Pessumal. Indeed they were able to come up with something highly entertaining out of how Filipinos use (or misuse) the English language.

The film is also a good guide to contemporary Pilipino and their variations as you are gradually introduced to words you can’t find in official Tagalog.

But as some Pilipino words are translated (or mistranslated) with its contemporary comic layers of meaning unearthed, “English Only, Please” found its way into the moviegoer’s heart with nary an effort.

It is light and breezy until the romantic part sets in but still the film remains totally entertaining and it is a big relief from other comedy films with nothing sane to say about the contemporary Filipino way of life.

The film shows us what a good scriptwriter can do and how a director can make something unique about the material.

On the day one watched, one could very well sense a highly educated crowd laughing their heads off over new-found translations and mistranslations.

In the beginning, the film gives us an idea on how Filipinos use and cope with the English language and how they assimilate them in their way of life.

The hilarious job interview scene in the beginning set the tone for the movie.

Director Dan Villegas, Jennylyn Mercado and  Derek Ramsay. The lead actors and  supporting cast delivered.

Director Dan Villegas, Jennylyn Mercado and Derek Ramsay. The lead actors and supporting cast delivered.

Filipinos tend to translate literally, others translate from the heart and still others find a way to wrestle with the language in the most comic way imaginable.

Around this language mix up, Jadaone wove her love story and introduce her characters and made them very real and contemporary.

The members of the cast, for one, were well-chosen especially the supporting ones. Some need not deliver lines as their looks reflect their confusion with the English language.

You would think that the beauteous Jennylyn Mercado as Tere Madlansacay is a sophisticate until she opens her mouth and grapples with the English language. Add to that her get-up which shows she clearly lives in the hovels of Metro Manila not identified with high fashion and good English.

The “foreigner” in the movie is perfectly personified by Derek Ramsay as Julian Parker.

He is recovering from a broken heart and hires a translator who can communicate his heartache and his contempt, the more rapacious, the better.

One must that Ramsay deserves his best actor trophy for a well-carved delineation of a role. In the beginning, his character is cold and detached and warns the translator (Mercado) that he will not entertain personal questions to find the proper context of the words appropriate for the Pilipino translation.

Sample of funny English translation in "English Only, Please."

Sample of funny English translation in “English Only, Please.”

He later finds out she has other foreign students trying to learn the native language.

The transformation of Ramsay from the cold, paying language student to a loving one is what gives the film its most endearing moments worthy of this romantic comedy.

Mercado as the naïve translator and prey to a scheming Lothario fleshes out a role that is at once real and disarming. It is almost like “My Fair Lady” in reverse with her as a bumbling Pilipino version of Prof. Higgins and making something hilarious of the English language.

Kean Cipriano as the “gold-digging” Lothario is equally impressive and Cai Cortex as the heavyweight, lovelorn single mother makes a well-marked appearance, her vulnerability showing in every frame of her overweight body.

Poster of "English Only Please."

Poster of “English Only Please.”

What this film proves is that we can have a new brand of comedy catering to a literate crowd and still have lots of fun. Filipino moviegoers (especially that sector branded as bakya) have long been crucified for patronizing silly movies and it is partly because filmmakers can’t come up with something enjoyable for the AB crowd.

“English Only, Please” can start a trend and here’s hoping we can have more fun in this festival with movies with cross-cultural message.

Jadaone and Pessumal produced one hell of a script, Villegas executed it with finesse and the actors – notably Mercado and Ramsay – delivered and how!

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