Hardscrabble lives turn on a good cry
An endearing comedy that deftly blends sentiment and grit and features a clutch of top Filipino stars, Mark Meily’s “Crying Ladies” centers on the lives of three friends coping with day-to-day life in one of Manila’s poorest neighborhoods. High-spirited and good-natured, “Crying Ladies” never loses touch with reality.
The key figure is the vivacious Stella (Sharon Cuneta), who is struggling to put her life together after serving a year in prison for a petty, undefined form of con artistry. Stella not only has lost her husband, Guido (Ricky Davao), who has happily remarried, but also custody of her 7-year-old son, Bong (Julio Pacheco).
Living in a hovel, she survives on whatever work she can find and seizes an opportunity to have five days’ work as a “crier” during the wakes preceding a traditional Chinese funeral as well as at the elaborate ceremony. She lines up as fellow criers her friends Doray (Hilda Koronel), a shopkeeper who was once a minor B-movie actress, perhaps no more than a bit player, and who dreams of a “comeback,” and Choleng (Angel Aquino), who works at an orphanage and is the naive, devout type but can’t resist having an affair with her best friend’s husband (Raymond Bagatsing). During this time Stella has managed to persuade her ex to let their son stay with her for three weeks before Guido moves Bong and his new wife to a distant city.
“Crying Ladies” is enriched by a strong subplot involving Wilson (Eric Quizon), the Chinese Filipino who has hired the women to cry for his late father in hopes that this will open the gates of heaven to him. Wilson is going through these traditional motions to please his mother (Sherry Lara), yet these days of mourning allow mother and son time to contemplate forgiving a husband and father who in fact had caused his family considerable grief. In the meantime Stella tries to show Bong a good time while pursuing her dream of singing and acting -- and striving to put food on her table and keep a roof, no matter how flimsy, over her head.
Cuneta makes Stella highly appealing, an impetuous woman who makes mistakes, understands full well how steep a price she sometimes has to pay as a result, but remains determined to be upbeat and undefeated. She’s scrappy and resilient, and her wide range of street-smart tactics to save a peso and scrape by are a source of much affectionate humor.
Koronel and Aquino also are engagingly amusing in their own foibles. In his assured feature directorial debut, Meily understands that a comedy that deals compassionately with loss also needs to end on a positive note yet wisely doesn’t overdo it. The dreams that come true at the fade for Stella and her friends are modest. As women who have learned to live in the moment, they instinctively sense that nothing lasts forever.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Some adult situations but suitable family fare
A Unico Entertainment release of a Unitel Pictures presentation. Writer-director Mark Meily. Producer Tony Gloria. Executive producers Jun Reyes, Vincent Nebrida. Cinematographer Lee Meily. Editor Danny Anonuevo. Musical director Vincent A. De Jesus. Production designer Norman Regalado. In Tagalog and English, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
In selected theaters.