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Can “Unlovable” get some love from Pinoy viewers?

By Abner Galino*

Filipino American actor Abe Pagtama poses with “Unlovable” co-writer and main actress Charlene DeGuzman. The movie was directed by Suzi Yoonessi. Photo by Gabe Pagtama

I got four friends named “Joy” on my Facebook alone. Two of them are my real friends. And all of the four are Filipinas.

Some 50 years of American colonization, which left more a than a million Filipinos dead during its first three years (Philippine-American War — February 1899 to July 1902), left us too with such names as Joy and Jake that compete with Spanish names such as Maria and Mario.

In the movie “Unlovable,” Joy is a second generation Filipino American. As I understand it, Joy is in great part an impersonation of Charlene DeGuzman, the woman who owns the story, co-wrote it with Mark Duplass and played the character in the movie.

In real life, Charlene DeGuzman is a “kayumanggi” (brown) stunner. My wife threw the compliment shortly after we were introduced to her by Filipino American actor Abe Pagtama (who played Joy’s father in the movie) before the showing of “Unlovable” at the ArcLight Cinema in Santa Monica.

The movie was then participating in the Buzz section of the Los Angeles Film Festival which ended on September 28. (I erroneously said that it was competing in the said film festival and I apologize to Unlovable’s cast and crew).

My wife and I agreed that Charlene was more charming and willowy than Joy who was raggedy for the most part in the movie — which was just fine, considering the ordeal that she has to go through in the movie.

I don’t know about Charlene, but I didn’t see anything Filipina in Joy anymore. Not that it was a fault in the creation of Joy’s character. On the other hand, Joy was even a near-perfect example of many culturally unrecognizable second-generation immigrants.

But then, Joy’s predicament has nothing to do with her being an offspring of immigrants. Sex addiction is a disorder that does not distinguish on age, race and gender.

For a short while though (through the roles played by Filipinos Abe Pagtama and Gigette Reyes), the movie showed how culture and awareness could impact someone’s resilience against the malady.

Expectedly, the more patriarchal a society is, the harder it is for sex addiction victims to be understood, especially when the sufferer was a woman.

The amount of suffering was wackily portrayed in the movie when Joy attempted to kill herself. She confessed to “having a gaping hole in her soul” and wrote a suicide note that said: “She died doing what she loved: wanting to die.”

Joy ended up cleaning up the floor of colorful and slimy puke – a result of trying to overdose from cough syrup and cake.

I’m not so sure, but I have a feeling that Filipino viewers would opt for a tearful interpretation of the said scene. You know, we Filipinos love to see our actors cry and scream over the slightest swing of emotions.

I know that it is even harder to infuse hilarity on acts that present a chain of misfortunes and sufferings. But you couldn’t blame me for asking, it’s one of those cultural things.

Joy, an actress on a kids’ show who kept a dozen stuffed animals, soon lost her boyfriend, her job and her home.

By the way, Joy also has a drinking problem, which probably aggravate the other affliction, or vice verza.

The boyfriend told Joy to get help so she joined a support group where she met Maddie (played by Melissa Leo). Maddie set her up in her grandmother’s backhouse for a 30-day recovery plan.

Joy met Maddie’s recluse brother Jim (played by John Hawkes). Maddie and Jim were not in good terms. Jim lives in the main house and takes care of their grandmother. Jim and Joy awkwardly built a sort of friendship.

It turned out Jim was a songwriter and soon the duo were playing music together in the garage.

My expectation was Jim and Joy would fall in love despite the age gap. (Jim was the older one.) But they didn’t.

Despite the joy that Joy found in the friendship, she still relapsed. In rage, Joy ticked off the pink masking tape strips that she routinely plastered on the wall to mark her days of sobriety.

By the way, before the heightened drama, Joy discovered that a recovering sex addict used to live in the same backhouse room and that woman succeeded in killing herself.

This and other things, helped Joy to regain her senses and encouraged her to give herself another chance.

Charlene as Joy was convincing. And so were John and Melissa.

“Unlovable” is a good movie with good actors. It is not a feel good movie. In fact, I stepped out of the movie house with a heavy heart, fully aware that there are many more “Joys” out there who are desperately trying to be understood by loved ones; and trying to break free from the choking clutch of such an affliction.

The movie was directed by Suzi Yoonessi.

*This story was updated


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Abner Galino
The author is a poet and a writer. He was a cultural worker before he became a reporter for Tinig ng Masa and Malaya Midday Edition during the Marcos regime. He later became a reporter of People's Tonight shortly after 1986 EDSA Revolution. He went on to become its Chief of Reporters, City Editor and News Editor. He retired after 15 years in the Journal Group of Publications. He now writes for Weekend Balita and the US Asian Post (USAP), weekly Filipino-American newspapers based in Los Angeles, California.

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