‘Maid in Malacañang’: Flawed, superficial but engaging
Darryl Yap’s Maid in Malacañang is surprisingly gentle. The vitriol surrounding it is unnecessary.
It’s true to its plot: the last 72 hours preceding then beleaguered President Ferdinand Marcos and his family’s fleeing the Philippines that brought the February 1986 Edsa Revolution to a fitting conclusion.
It does not aim to invalidate the abuses of the martial law that happened under the Marcos administration, or create further division in the country, or incite a political debate.
It doesn’t even have the mocking and sardonic comedy of the Len-Len series which Yap likewise directed, and it doesn’t attempt to educate the audience about history.
For the first time, Yap does a straightforward, somber drama —far from the typical, cuss-induced, cheeky writing of his previous movies.
It’s not even political.
Yap zooms in on the Marcoses’ emotional and mental state in their last three days in Malacañang Palace. It’s a family drama, focused on the dynamics and relationships between the family members and their three most trusted maids (Elizabeth Oropesa, Karla Estrada and Beverly Salvejo).
This is the “untold story” mentioned in the movie’s teaser: the Marcos family’s personal conversations. Triggered by their impending exile, their deep-seated feelings about one another are unleashed: their insecurities, disappointments and regrets.
Details were presumably provided by the movie’s creative producer, Sen. Imee Marcos, who I am guessing is Yap’s living source material.
The film aims to explain who these people are behind the closed walls of the Palace. Definitely not portrayed as blood-sucking demons cackling with evil laughter while sitting on a pile of gold bars. It’s literally about a dad (Cesar Montano), a mom (Ruffa Gutierrez), their adult siblings (Cristine Reyes, Diego Loyzaga, Ella Cruz), and their staff.
While each family member is given his and her significant moment, the main characters are Imee and the three maids. Imee is portrayed as a highly stressed, vocal “genius” who runs the household like a military chief.
Yap utilizes mixed formats in the movie. Divided into 10 quick chapters, the screenwriter/director tells the story through a pattern: conversations in the palace, actual footage, and intertitles or title cards (text graphics in white font against a black background like a lengthy Facebook post).
It would have been more thrilling if the archival footage were dramatized by the actors, like for instance, Marcos cutting off then Armed Forces chief Fabian Ver at a press conference, and the Marcoses’ last public appearance at the balcony, with Imelda singing before an audience of Marcos loyalists.
One wonders if the movie is on a tight budget and deadline, hence the challenging scenes were executed through footage and title cards. Even the framed family photos inside the Palace were actual photos of the Marcos family, instead of being recreated using the actors’ faces.
The movie’s color palette is vivid and glossy, but the production is a bit rough around the edges. One of the maids is caught obviously trying to remember her line, and I was certain Reyes accidentally looks at the camera twice for a split second.Yap also employs camera pans, which is more like fire-hosing than a whip pan, which is jolting.
The movie gets melodramatic — no subtlety here, and it takes time to get used to Reyes’ high-volume dialogue. Yap injects humor, although sporadic, through the maids which elicit chuckles.
What is missing in the drama is tension. There’s no sense of fear and distress from the overthrow of the government, not to mention the growing crowd outside the palace gates. If you are seeking for the same thrill and nail-biting excitement when the von Trapp family in The Sound of Music is trying to escape the Nazis, you are in for a disappointment. Maid is a straight-up conversation-driven narrative.
The film often feels like a histrionic episode of the ’90s TV series 7th Heaven, with a feisty eldest daughter — with a couple of cringey, expository and self-serving scenes. There is only one strong political explanation: Imee’s angry analysis of what triggered the revolt. Ferdinand the patriarch is not the family “dictator” in his household—Imee is, driven by love and concern for the family’s welfare.
Maid in Malacañang, despite its flaws and superficiality, is engaging (the two-hour runtime zips by). The Marcoses are depicted as neither misunderstood heroes nor saints, but decent people.
The surprising revelation in the end is the ultimate “untold story.”
Opens 3 August in cinemas
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