By Rianne Hill Soriano

Sex and laughs hit close to home

Posted on June 07, 2013

Movie Review Juana C. The Movie Directed by Jade Castro

JUANA C. THE MOVIE, produced by the people behind the box office hits Zombadings and Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, shines as the grand launching vehicle of Mae Paner’s activist alter ego, Juana Change. This sex comedy is bound to become another indie sensation for its social, political and entertainment values.

STARS IN the Juana Change film: (L-R) John James Uy, Jelson Bay, Niño Muhlach, Mae Paner, Annicka Dolonius, and Mads Nicolas with director Jade Castro
Clearly crafted from the out-of-the-box character made popular online, this big-screen debut of the face behind the Juana Change Movement -- an advocacy championing critical thinking and social action -- wages war against the harsh cultural, political, moral and social realities plaguing the country.

The story revolves around an oblivious, happy-go-lucky high school graduate, Juana C., who is forced to take the place of her town’s class valedictorian, a victim of toxic waste in their mine-stricken river. The townspeople have high hopes for her college scholarship in an elite university in Manila, confident she would later return to help save their ancestral land from greedy capitalists.

The moment she arrives the big, thriving city, her socialite schoolmates’ lavish lifestyle gets the better of her. Ashamed of her poverty and tribal origins, she reinvents herself as a salon-pampered party girl who sustains her thirst for mundane fun as a high-class, plus-size escort. She readily meets all sorts of rich, corrupt and influential officials through her job. Soon, she accidentally bumps into a disturbing tragedy waiting to happen. From then on, she knows she should fight against the corruption and apathy in her midst.

Just like the best viral videos that made the hard-hitting Juana Change a force to reckon with, this screen version remains wildly funny, as well as sexy, in its own big way. It promotes its heavyweight advocacies at a whole new level by exposing serious problems through sex and laughter. It is both witty and ridiculous, delivering a genuinely funny and painful take on the plight of Filipinos.

This film looks like a labor of love for everyone involved. Director Jade Castro and scriptwriter Rody Vera succeed in provoking laughs, while deliberately evoking agony and disdain over the story’s material. The production make jokes out issues that are achingly real -- illegal mining, drugs, prostitution, toxic waste mishaps, graft and corruption, and oppression of the citizens’ freedom of expression and right to information -- without losing its integrity. This comedy triumphs in taking a slightly different path toward activism.

A delectably biting satire, it manages to keep the audience entertained from start to end. Viewers can read between the lines as they laugh their hearts out with the witty punch lines and in-your-face slapstick. Paner daringly challenges people’s perception of their surroundings. The comedienne seems full of love for what she does and her admirable effort in doing a lot of daring scenes works well for the film’s treatment.

The rest of the cast members are worth mentioning for graciously playing the story’s many colorful characters. These include film, TV and theater personalities John James Uy, Annicka Dolonius, Jelson Bay, Angelina Kanapi, Niño Muhlach, Mads Nicolas, Joel Lamangan, Kristine Kintana, Soxie Topacio, Malu de Guzman, Ronnie Lazaro, Orlando Sol, Angeli Bayani, Candy Pangilinan, Joel Torre, Liesl Batucan, Lauren Novero and Soliman Cruz. All of them supply the needed momentum to keep the story afloat.

This film’s anti-corruption bid -- liberally coated in cynicism -- still delivers hard slaps on the faces of the dishonorable leaders of the Philippines. Its innovative storytelling effectively utilizes sex not to merely sell, but to become a cushion for all the heavy issues addressed in the narrative. At the end of it all, it provides a subtle call for action.

MTRCB Rating: R-16