‘Miss Granny’ (2018) review: Sarah Geronimo’s performance makes this Pinoy remake triumphant

Bb. Joyce Bernal’s adaptation of ‘Miss Granny’ is a testament to Sarah Geronimo’s well-rounded artistry.

There’s a broad and classic appeal in films with body/age-swap premises (Big, Freaky Friday, 17 Again, 13 Going on 30) that they’re reincarnated time and again in cinema. Such concept is a perfect device for escapism—what would it feel like to be someone else, or in this case, a younger, more capable version of yourself. It does not need to be bogged down by the science behind it, the outcome, usually, is a gold mine for wacky comedy hijinks and deep philosophical revelations. The Filipino adaptation of Miss Granny radiates with the same amount of charm.

Miss Granny kicks off with a monologue from Fely Malabaño (Nova Villa), a cantankerous yet devoted woman in her twilight years. She poses the question, “How do you measure sadness?” implying to the audience that melancholy is a state of emotion that grows over time and is also present in old age. A sense of empathy is already established at this point so it doesn’t get too annoying when she acts rude to the people around her. She has grown to be a toxic energy in their household and that causes her daughter-in-law Annie (Lotlot De Leon) to be hospitalized. Now, his son Ramon (Nonie Buencamino) is faced in a difficult decision to temporarily send her mother to a retirement home while his wife recovers.

Nova Villa as Fely Malabaño. Photo via Viva Films.

Feeling more isolated than ever, Fely stumbles into a mysterious photo studio and decides to have her funeral photo taken in advance. The photographer teases that he will make her look fifty years younger and—voila!—she’s back in her 20’s again looking like the iconic Audrey Hepburn. She fittingly assumes the name Odrey De Leon and with it comes a new perspective in her life.

Good things fall into place as she pursues her dream of being a pop singer by joining his grandson Jeboy’s (James Reid) metal band. She revamps the band’s image by singing 70’s hits that surprisingly appeal more to the public, thereby gaining more love and admiration in the process. But like all fantasy stories, the magic must eventually come to an end.

The Malabaños performing ‘Rain’ (L-R): James Reid, Sarah Geronimo, Pio Balbuena, Kedebon Colim. Photo via Viva Films.

Where in some musicals, you can definitely pick which among the cast is an actor who can sing or vice versa, Sarah G excels in both aspects that she can carry the whole film by herself. Her strongest acting performance remains to be in The Breakup Playlist, but in here, she proves how much of a well-rounded artist she is. Equipped with copious amounts of charisma, good comic timing and dramatic chops, she owns the role of a conservative yet feisty Filipina. Of course, her character won’t work without the support of Ms. Nova Villa. Thankfully, the latter’s screen time was not reduced to an extended guest spot.

The musical performances (“Rain,” “Kiss Me, Kiss Me,” “Forbidden” and original song “Isa Pang Araw”) are all soulful and sensational—one of the benefits of having a world-class singer who can deftly add layers of emotions to every line of lyrics. The “Forbidden” performance in particular engraves to the heart as the film complements it with a montage of Odrey’s hardships in raising her son. It speaks to a universal audience.

Considering this is a remake, there’s an unspoken rule of bringing the adaptation to a higher standard, especially when it comes to its technical aspects. This is where Miss Granny falls short, particularly with its unfocused narrative and clunky editing. The sequencing comes off as jarring, revealing how unsystematic the plot actually is. It also tries hard with too much gags like the unnecessary ones towards the end where it clashes with more poignant themes in play.

Xian Lim as music producer Lawrence. Photo via Viva Films.

The film’s teaser poster flirts on the possibility of a love triangle which should make sense in the context of marketing, because romcoms sell locally. (Later on, the official poster revealed a stunning Sarah Geronimo shadowed by Ms. Nova Villa, suggesting the age-swap premise.) While there’s a decent connection established between Odrey and Jeboy, the love interest of music producer Lawrence (Xian Lim) never really came into fruition. He will be best remembered as the guy who Odrey attacks with a pair of fresh bangus. I’m not sure how much participation his character had in the original but his character doesn’t feel much integral to the story. Some could say that it would have been better if a B-list actor was cast in his place. Actually, the half-baked subplot gives the impression that there is a complete arc shot between Odrey and Lawrence, but late in the game, the director decided to go to a different direction. I can only guess.

Odrey surprisingly has the best chemistry with Fely’s steadfast secret admirer Bert (Boboy Garovillo) and his genuine love for her is just adorable. But the most remarkable moment will have to go to Buencamino’s dialogue with his now-young-again mother towards the end that should leave no dry eye in the theater.

Sarah Geronimo as Odrey De Leon. Photo via Viva Films.

Miss Granny may earn more points from the source material itself and Sarah Geronimo’s dedicated performance but this adaptation still makes a solid mark with its Filipino cultural touches, from sinigang to its adherence to familial piety over romantic endeavors. It has the right amount of conflict to earn its messages on parenthood, dreams and old age. Amid the narrative structure and editing issues, the film places its heart where it needs to be. And for that, this should generally work.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Bb. Joyce Bernal, written by Jinky Laurel. Based on the 2014 Korean film ‘Miss Granny’.
Cast: Sarah Geronimo, Xian Lim, James Reid, Nova Villa, Boboy Garovillo, Nonie Buencamino, Lotlot De Leon, Kim Molina, Ataska Mercado, Danita Paner, Marissa Delgado, Kedebon Colim, Pio Balbuena, Angeli Bayani, Mara Lopez, Jojit Lorenzo, and Arvic James Tan.
Run time: 113 minutes

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