’Tis a pity she’s a whore

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By Maria Carmen Aquino Sarmiento

Movie Review
Cuddle Weather
Written and directed by Rod Cabatana-Marmol

HERE’S THE TWIST: this romcom deals, not with the usual BPO agents, medical professionals, corporate drones, teacher-trainers, restaurant waitstaff, or OFWs — any of the jobs most upwardly mobile millennials inevitably gravitate to — but with sex industry workers, colloquially known as pokpok. For those in the upper tiers, compensation runs into the low five figures per hour, which is the usual call center agent’s or bank teller’s starting monthly salary. At their peak, the pokpok might become tax-free millionaires many times over — within the four short years that might have been spent getting a college degree — which is something that most college-degree holder retirees with decades of service never get to.

The male sex worker’s physical stamina is a limitation to his earning power, but the woman can always fake it. And after nine years in the industry, faking it is what the veteran Adela (Sue Ramirez) does best. As though shot through rose-colored lenses, the soft-focus opening sequences, show her as a human sushi platter, a dirty uncle’s jailbait pretend niece and a fuschia-haired cosplay cutie. The latter is how Ram (for Ramoncito, played by RK Bagatsing) first encounters her, in a cheap Burgosian motel in the sleazy heart of the hip Makati Poblacion district. He delightedly renames her “Senpai,” an anime or manga term for mentor.

Adela is an independent contractor in this day and age when social media have eliminated the sinister pimp or grasping mama-san. Her business name is Angels-for-Hire. She has more than one persona and name for every client’s taste. Ram is a newbie pokpok himself, whose hourly rate of P1,000 is just 10% of the friendly 50% off P10,000 which Adela charges their grumpy barangay captain (Niño Muhlach). The Kap knows all the practicing whores in his domain by name, and also in the Biblical sense. He gets a discount, and occasionally makes a show of rounding them up and throwing them into the city jail. Like the PG sex scenes, it’s all done in fun, without eliciting an erotic rise from those with normative sexual tastes.

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The sugar coating is a little soured by Adela’s early whining that she has no choice but to practice the world’s oldest profession since she wasn’t born rich, nor had the benefits of higher education. Ram decides selling his body as his most viable recourse after an illegal recruiter gyps him. Incredibly, the worldly Adela agrees to perpetually perky Ram’s proposition that he move in with her so that she can mentor him, for a percentage of his callboy earnings and a nominal rent. In return, all she asks of him is that they share a chaste bed with a fat, well-worn bolster as a barrier in between them. It’s obviously a playful fantasy, and nostalgically entertaining in the manner of those pakipot “no-touch” love teams of half a century ago.

Bagatsing plays along as the harmless grinning dork, much like the Jack McBrayer character Kenneth Parcell, the eternally sweet though put-upon NBC page in the sitcom Thirty Rock. Despite his being the 180° opposite of a stud muffin, Ram, with his innocuously wholesome good looks, is surprisingly in-demand for threesomes and orgies amongst the wealthy, bored, long-married couples and desiccated, society matrons looking for new thrills. The only time he asserts his dignity is when Melba (Dexter Doria) and her amigas amuse themselves with trying to see how much vodka and pills he can chug-a-lug at a yacht party.

Much is made of Adela’s determination to legally change her name, although, as her favorite married john, a medical doctor at that, points out, this might cause legal complications as he has already registered the condominium she lives in under her original name. The poor girl doesn’t seem to realize how lucky she is. These plot points are baffling, and less than compelling. Adela’s estranged mother also gets on her case about the name-change. She is a street vendor who reads the English broadsheets, which is how she finds the announcement about her daughter’s legal change of name. One wonders what all the fuss is about since Adela is a bastard anyway, and it was her mother who got her started in the business where she’s prospering.

When Adela wasn’t earning as much, she did build her Nanay a narrow two-story concrete shanty, where she lives with her husband — not Adela’s Caucasian father, presumably one of the Poblacion’s tourist galis or white trash, and Adela’s younger half-siblings. These glimpses of the tawdrier, more painful side of sex work and its sad, complicated human consequences are discordant with the film’s general, feel-good, marshmallow flavor.

Now that she’s raking in the big bucks, Adela surreptitiously buys two trays of eggs every month from her mother’s humble stand. That’s around P350 worth of business that she throws her mother’s way every month, or approximately what she herself makes per minute with one of her clients. One wonders if Adela’s secrecy is out of shame that this is all she’s willing to spare for the mother who got her started in what was a family business in a sense, where she has undeniably done better than her mentor.

When Adela, with her worried puppy-dog eyes, increasingly talks of retiring from the business, and sending herself to college, Ram who’s just beginning to get a taste of the big bucks himself and liking it, urges her to be pragmatic: they can go on working while they’re still able, even be a team. The torero of the euphemistically termed live shows of yesteryear were also said to often be married couples. It’s just a matter of maximizing their literally human capital. Keep it in the family, so to speak.

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