Without a doubt, Felix Manalo is a gigantic movie. It boasts of a grand production design that merits commendation–from its nostalgic color and look to its glamorous costumes to affecting musical scoring to set decorations to the very idea that it has come into fruition.
Not to mention, it is able to cast a great number of stars in Philippine showbiz in one single production. The teaser-trailer alone warrants a wow for what seems to be an impossible feat of bringing together in one project some of the biggest artists, most of which are not even members of the Iglesia ni Cristo.
Its capacity to make something this expensive is likely attributed to its budget that yielded a massive output three years in the making. There is such a big force behind all this, granted the remarkable unity among the members and leaders of their church.
On its premiere night at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan on Sunday (October 4, 2015), it gathered a whopping 42,624 people in the audience, nabbing the Guinness world records for Largest Audience At A Film Premiere and the Largest Audience At A Film Screening – titles held by 2012 American film Honor Flight with 10,000 and 28,442 moviegoers respectively. It cannot be denied that the support of the crowd is evident as they cry and cheer and participate together with us non-members.
On that momentous event, the missions were clear: to celebrate the triumphs of their centennial church and provide a view, for both the uninformed and the misinformed, about who they are as a people rather than merely getting into their roots.
Only all of these accomplishments and the size it wants to depict pale to reflect the overall quality of this biopic. It follows the life of Iglesia Ni Cristo’s first executive minister as if by skimming through a list of recorded events and setting aside the relevance of any in-depth research to delve into his humanity.
On another hand, its narrative is disjointed, its editing too rushed and unaware, with visual effects that neither beautify nor boil down into anything believable.
With a runtime of almost three hours, it is a relief to witness how actor Dennis Trillo takes the character with justice as he could just be the sole reason to stick around. He does well in showing a fierce and passionate Manalo in spite of a weak script and hardly tolerable storytelling.
With a lot of pressure on his shoulder since the announcement that he will portray the titular role, he does not budge an inch and resorts to the convenience of his stature as one recognized actor who has a knack in performing what is needed from him, all of which despite veteran director Joel Lamangan’s confused if not totally aimless direction.
Trillo is seen in just about every scene–from a disappointingly clichéd and unnecessary birth scene up to a heavy albeit never poignant death scene where he is able to say his parting words just like in any traditional TV drama where a character is supposed to be terribly ill but still has enough strength to muster for goodbyes and tears.
Surrounding him is a vast troop of secondary characters that only go with the flow instead of owning their respective personas.
Unimpressive is Bella Padilla’s acting as she takes the role of Honorata, Manalo’s wife, who has incredibly aged without conviction. Look at the way she walks at an old age, look at her arms and hands, listen to what she sounds like and one could never tell she is an old woman apart from being distinguished for her iffy prosthetics.
With the number of cameo roles that have only little value to its entirety, it just feels so hackneyed and forced especially for an epic film that is expected to be grander than ever. We see familiar faces, one after another, Lorna Tolentino, Heart Evangelista, Glasdys Reyes, Raymond Bagatsign, Alice Dixson, Snooky Serna, Richard Yap, Jackie Woo, Ruru Madrid, and Yul Servo among many others, adding up to the already large number of characters, only to be dismayed that they are underutilized.
What the giant FELIX MANALO creates is underwhelming and miserably fails to redeem the film’s very own setbacks. It plays safe in selectively presenting rags-to-riches tales instead of showing the bigger picture of what is in the mind of Felix Manalo as a human being at the core or how it is possible for him to have faults and commit sins.
The world this movie offers to its spectators is a realm of wisdom borne out of curiosity, sleep deprivation and confinement and switching from one religion to another.
If this is how the filmmakers intend to portray the establishment of Iglesia ni Cristo, through a perfect view of a perfect individual creating a perfect religion that dismiss every other religious groups and congregations, then so be it. But at the end of the day, one would still persistently ask: other than what has already been told and spread, what else should be discovered about Felix Manalo (the founder) and Iglesia ni Cristo (the founded congregation)?
Perhaps, there is more to learn and relearn from the film’s so-claimed original 6-hour cut that will be included in the DVD release to follow. Until then can we all know if these weird editing and uninspired direction are all that matter.
For now, the giant remains a giant with its well-rounded head, sturdy body and moving limbs that the movie Felix Manalo has selectively laid on the table.