MOVIE REVIEW: Mercury is Mine (2016)

Jason Paul Laxamana’s Mercury is Mine follows the story of Carmen (Pokwang), a fifty-year old cook who runs an eatery at the foot of Mt. Arayat, and a white American sixteen-year old boy named Mercury who knocks at her door one night to beg for shelter. The relationship grows from there with both characters realizing the need for the other. She decides not to close down her eatery and hires him as a waiter in exchange for a place to stay. The presence of a white teenage foreigner draws customer while travelers are also on the lookout for a buried treasure in the area.

The extremities of these two main characters play big roles in divulging their intentions and aspirations. Carmen dreams of becoming a star and hopes to straighten up the lives of her almost-estranged children. On the other hand, Mercury is willing to learn as he acclimatizes to a rather different environment, with his past being thrown out of the window until secrets are revealed and motives are shown. In the course of Laxamana’s style of storytelling, he is able to lay down the polarities of Carmen and Mercury—her hardness and his softness, her wisdom and his youth, her passion and his innocence—all of which eventually turn to the opposite direction with twisted surprises towards the ending. Tables are turned and so is each other’s temperament.

Pokwang and Bret ably give out their best performances yet. It’s just hard to take one’s eyes off of them. Pokwang is funny, soft-hearted and sturdy, with her eyes speaking more than words in many occasions. She delivers with such attention to timing which makes her being hilarious an already-given merit. As for Bret, he provides a decent portrayal that can swiftly make one forget about his past roles. A good director and a solid material can do pretty much to any performer who can show dedication and desire to do well. The chemistry exuded by their relationship goes way beyond strangers, family, or even lovers. It is all about the new discoveries that let them become conscious of what they want and what they need in life.

The triumph of Mercury is Mine can be very well attributed to this mastery of composing every scene with the purpose of painting them altogether in a beautiful canvas. The story’s charm complements its underlying darkness. The play of moods is even reflected in the choices of lighting and set design, with colors and tones that seem to have been carefully planned to evoke emotions. Topel Lee’s cinematography is breathtaking and seeps into memory. Kapampangan music as well as American ragtime music are utilized to enhance the sensation of contrasting ways of living. Musical scorer Vincent De Jesus does a great job in aligning Laxamana’s vision through compositions that are inauspicious most of the time.

In the midst of it being funny, the film highlights the fascination of Filipinos to white-skinned people. That too could be funny in itself, granted how Filipinos tend to poke fun to physical appearances and think highly of foreigners of different skin color and tongue. This line of commentary is consistently applied to the writer-director’s filmography aside from his sheer tribute to Kapampangan culture in general. From Laxamana’s debut feature Astro Mayabang in 2010, to his first Cinemalaya film Babagwa in 2013, to the cringe-worthy Magkakabaung in 2014, to his recent stints in Regal Entertainment’s Love is Blind and the CineFilipino finalist Ang Taba Ko Kasi, his characters are never perfect but all of them have dimensions to explore. Flaws are celebrated to show truthfulness, while perfections are set aside to reveal more interesting stories. In Mercury is Mine, Carmen and Mercury have dark sides that make them human, real, and prone to sticking to that side as they wish. One way or another, regardless of their faults, we care about these characters as we carefully follow their lives and try to comprehend their line of thinking—and that is essential to any story.

As a crowd-pleaser, Mercury is Mine is highly entertaining. It leaves a rewarding feeling upon watching a funny story that sinks itself in layers of issues to ponder upon. Its unpredictability is commendable thanks to a sharp screenplay. Laxamana surely has a whole lot more to tell and it is just so exciting to see where he goes from here.

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