Toronto Film Review: ‘The Bit Player’

'The Bit Player' Review: Jeffrey Jeturian's

Jeffrey Jeturian pokes good-natured fun at TV soap operas in this appealing dramedy starring Filipino screen queen Vilma Santos.

The unshakable optimism of a middle-aged extra is the warm heart driving “The Bit Player,” an appealing dramedy that pokes plenty of good-natured fun at TV soap operas. Anchored by a glowing central performance by Filipino screen queen Vilma Santos as the single mother who smiles her way through work-related indignities in order to pay for her daughter’s education, the pic reps a fine feather in the cap of veteran helmer Jeffrey Jeturian. Winner of the audience award for best film in its category at Cinemalaya and a hit in domestic release in August, this crowdpleaser launches on limited North American screens on Sept. 13.

The wise and witty screenplay by Jeturian, Zigcarlo Dulay and Antoinette Jadaone hits the right mix of humor and compassion from the outset. In a funny pre-credits sequence showing an exasperated production crew hiring and firing a succession of extras for the tiny speaking role of a housemaid, eager-to-please hopeful Loida Malabanan (Santos) is pipped for the job at the last moment.

Very much a modern incarnation of heroines from classic Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s, Loida only strengthens her resolve in the face of such setbacks. Fiercely determined to not ask her (unseen) ex-husband for financial assistance, Loida is driven to survive and succeed because of her adult daughter, Joyce (Ronaline Enriquez), also a divorcee and a college student whose tuition fees are due.

Unhurried opening segments paint a lovely picture of a selfless mother undaunted by being lumped into the category of “nameless wannabees” by fast-talking casting director Josie (Ruby Ruiz, terrific). Loida’s belief that it’s never too late to become a star is one of many character traits that will have audiences rooting for her all the way. With this critical factor firmly in place and Santos in supreme form, Jeturian steers a more overtly comedic path once Loida and her spunky best pal, Venus (Tart Carlos), find work on the set of a soap opera regaling with the title of “You Were Mine First.”

Constant chuckles and a fair supply of big belly laughs are the order of the day as Loida, Venus and a lovable collection of fellow nameless wannabees are herded like cattle by Josie, acid-tongued assistant director Vincent (Vincent de Jesus, hilarious) and the super-stressed-out director (Marlon Rivera) of “You Were Mine First.” As expected, much of the fun derives from scenes being shot for the wildly melodramatic “You Were Mine First.” To that end, Jeturian gets great value from guest appearances by a host of big-name local stars including hunky matinee idol Piolo Pascual as troubled groom-in-waiting Brando, Pilar Pilapil as severe matriarch Dona Esmerelda and a wonderfully over-the-top Cherie Gil as gun-toting super-bitch Dona Beatriz.

For all the merriment on display, the screenplay never loses sight of the economic and emotional imperatives propelling Loida’s uncomplaining acceptance of her place at the bottom of the entertainment-industry food chain. It’s no surprise when Loida finally gets a chance to make a mark with big speaking role in “You Were Mine First,” but the manner in which this plays out is surprising and genuinely touching.

As if inspired by the lightning-fast schedules of teledramas, Jeturian and his team shot this highly entertaining item in just 11 days with tip-top results. Lenser Lee Briones contributes significantly to maintaining the balance of comedy and heartfelt drama with elegant compositions in Loida’s domestic environment, and appropriately brighter, flatter images during her time on the soap set. Vincent de Jesus delivers a delightfully bouncy score to match his thesping input, and production designer Ericson Navarro clearly had a ball creating the delightfully tacky interiors for “You Were Mine First.” Other tech work is on the money.

Toronto Film Review: 'The Bit Player'

Reviewed at Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival (Directors Showcase), Aug. 1, 2013. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 112 MIN. Original title: "Ekstra"

Production

(Philippines) A Star Cinema release of a Cinemalaya, Quantum Films presentation of a Quantum Films production. (International sales: Ignatius Films, Manila.) Produced by Joji Alonso, Ferdinand Lapuz. Executive producers, Alonso, John Victor Tence, Jeffrey Jeturian, Vilma Santos-Recto.

Crew

Directed by Jeffrey Jeturian. Screenplay, Zigcarlo Dulay, Antoinette Jadaone, Jeturian. Camera (color, HD), Lee Briones; editors, Glenn M. Ituriaga, Dulay; music, Vincent de Jesus; production designer, Ericson Navarro; art director, Erwin Sanchez; sound (stereo), Addiss B. Tabong; visual effects, Patrick Beltran, John Kenneth Paclibar, Jhai De Leon; line producer, Charyl Chan-De Guzman; associate producer, Ron Capili; assistant directors, Ritchie Balza Rono, Panying Limon, Rolando T. Inocencio.

With

Vilma Santos, Marlon Rivera, Vincent de Jesus, Ruby Ruiz, Tart Carlos, Ronaline Enriquez, Cherry Pie Picache, Richard Yap, Piolo Pascual, Marian Rivera, Cherie Gil, Eula Valdes, Tom Rodriguez, Pilar Pilapil. (Tagalog, English dialogue)

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  1. gossipsipgirl says:

    Haven’t watched Fil movies for a long time…This is a very good movie. Realistic, both funny and sad. No dull moment. I like how the cast comprised of ordinary looking people instead of the popular stars. It made it believable. They were all great actors. Brilliant screenplay

  2. jc says:

    I don’t think it was mentioned that the daughter, Joyce, is also a divorcee.

  3. Edgar says:

    Reads like a press release. Doesn’t sound like a genuine review!

    • Junto says:

      Oh really? When will it sound it genuine? When it’ bashing the movie? Grow up and just accept the fact that the movie turned-out not what you hoped it would be – a bad one.

  4. jessiesanchez says:

    Ekstra/ The Bit Player , goes global now ! Congratulations Ate Vi !!!!!

  5. NADIA of Dubai says:

    VILMA SANTOS ! A GLOBAL ACTRESS !!!

  6. michael b.torres says:

    it’s worth waiting to see The Country’s one and only Star for all Seasons to do an indie film,,and yet it’s been recognized by the jurors of cinemalaya..ofcourse always expect the very best from Ms.Vilma Santos when it comes to her acting prowess..superb…performance ever..

  7. Julssweden says:

    Great review! Vilma Santos is truly amazing in EXTRA!

  8. Eric Molina says:

    Miss Santos is the Philippines’ most awarded actress, a legendary Movie Queen whose popularity has never waned to this day. She’s a true multi-dimensional actress whose wide range of acting is unequalled by any other actresses in the country. She has become a “yardstick” for GREAT ACTING among her peers and the newcomers in the movie business. Congratulations for her first indie film making rounds in the international movie realm, starting here at TIFF. Thank you for the wonderful review, you were spot on!

  9. Argeeh says:

    Kudos to THE BIT PLAYER and GRAND SLAM QUEEN, VILMA SANTOS for her success in her first foray in Indie Films. THE BIT PLAYER just bagged 6 major awards from the recent CINEMALAYA Film Festival, among which were BEST ACTRESS for Vilma Santos and Audience Choice Award. Incidentally, the film was also hailed, THE TOP GROSSER of the same Film Festival. Vilma Santos’ engaging and poignant portrayal of a bit player made the viewers laugh and cry…quite an eye-opener to many. Definitely a must-see movie!

  10. zaldypelino says:

    now i can shout to the whole world that i’m truly proud being a Filipino, additional feather to the cap of Gov Vi congrats to all Mabuhay

  11. John Michael says:

    EXTRA a most proud Filipino Indie Film of the year . It has a Global appeal ! Filipino people wish her ( Vilma Santos ) to win an international best actress.

  12. beinvenido teodoro says:

    One can’t deny the sheer pleasure the audience was experiencing in seeing Vilma Santos once again grace the silver screen,and remind us of how she excelled in both light comedy and drama.She’s GREAT!

  13. willie fernandez says:

    EKSTRA is a personal triumph for THE QUEENSTAR FOR ALL SEASONS,VILMA SANTOS whose feisty and committed performance proves that she’s at the peak of her artistry.BRAVO!

  14. Joe Bondoc says:

    Vilma Santos is at her best at the final scene, where she’s subjected to painfully watch the very episode they just shot. She’s embarrassed and frustrated, and we watch in horror as her eyes well up while she tries to hold everything in. We’ve seen that look several times in Ate Vilma’s previous movies, but it still haunts us just the same. From PEP

  15. Dominic says:

    Thank you for this wonderful review . EKSTRA is one of the best indie film this year . And the star for all seasons Vilma Santos delivered a splendid performance in this film.

  16. Susan Kelly says:

    From Philippine Entertainmrnt Portal:
    Vilma Santos, as always, exceptionally played the role to a hilt. The world bit players live in is all too jarring, more so because Vilma Santos—THE Vilma Santos—convincingly plays the role of a lowly talent. That might be too hard to accept in real life, but Ate Vi did a great job in fleshing out a character who’s equal parts funny, hopeful, and tragic.

  17. RRIE says:

    Thanks for this wonderful review of the first indie film of Ms. Vilma Santos, the Philippines’ screen queen. To know more about Ms. Santos and her body of work, especially The Bit Player, please visit this site: http://vilmasantos-queen.blogspot.com/p/normal-0-false-false-false-en-ph-x-none.html

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