×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘The Bit Player’

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

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)

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.

Popular on Variety

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)

More Film

  • Priyanka Chopra Bollywood

    Priyanka Chopra Jonas In Final Negotiations to Join 'Matrix 4' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Priyanka Chopra Jonas is taking the red pill. The actress and international beauty icon is in final talks to join the cast of the untitled fourth film in the Matrix saga, the Wachowski’s game-changing action franchise, insiders close to negotiations said. The Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow film is being directed by series co-creator Lana [...]

  • The Photograph Issa Rae Stella Meghie

    How ‘Love & Basketball’ Allowed Issa Rae to Dream

    Issa Rae says she had every reason to think she could be a filmmaker when she was growing up. “The ’90s had lots of black television and film … a lot of the shows were helmed by black people,” she recalls. “That’s what inspired me to at least try it.” She may have only been [...]

  • Little Women

    Writers Infuse Serious WGA Awards Contenders 'Parasite,' 'Little Women,' 'Jojo Rabbit' with Humor

    This year’s crop of WGA-nominated adapted and original screenplays appears on the surface to be a grim lot. There’s war (“1917,” “Jojo Rabbit”), insidious homewreckers (“Parasite”), a Civil War-era coming-of age (“Little Women”) and an arch murder investigation (“Knives Out”), to name just a few of the nominated scripts. But here’s a surprise: Every one [...]

  • Cathy Yan Birds of Prey Director

    'Birds of Prey' Director Cathy Yan Reveals the Crucial Advice Patty Jenkins Gave Her

    Just months after Cathy Yan’s feature directing debut, Shanghai-set ensemble comedy “Dead Pigs,” made a big splash at Sundance in 2018, the Chinese-born filmmaker landed a gig helming a giant studio franchise movie, the DC Comics adaptation “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” starring Margot Robbie. Going straight from indie buzz [...]

  • Gloria Allred

    Gloria Allred Rips Apart Weinstein's Defense Team for 'Putting the Blame on Women'

    Shortly after Harvey Weinstein accuser Miriam Haley took the stand and testified that she was sexually assaulted by the fallen movie mogul over a decade ago, her attorney Gloria Allred ripped apart Weinstein’s defense team, speaking to press outside of the courthouse. During the six-hour testimony, Haley told the jury that Weinstein forcibly performed oral [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content