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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Review: Sarah Geronimo's star power carries Filipino comedy 'Miss Granny' 

The quirky film is a remake of a South Korean movie, and Geronimo proves she has the charisma and presence to appeal to audiences across the globe

The only Sarah Geronimo reference point I had was her appearance in Miss Granny. Photos courtesy Gulf Asia Entertainment / Front Row Filmed Entertainment
The only Sarah Geronimo reference point I had was her appearance in Miss Granny. Photos courtesy Gulf Asia Entertainment / Front Row Filmed Entertainment

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Asian mother-in-laws in cinemas. Last week, Michelle Yeoh shot to number one at the American box office with Crazy Rich Asians, and this week Filipina veteran actress Nova Villa has her turn as the domineering Asian matriarch in Joyce Bernal’s Miss Granny.

Things aren’t going quite as well for Villa’s Fely, however. While Yeoh’s Eleanor rules her Singaporean brood with an iron fist, Fely has finally become too much for her long-suffering daughter-in-law Angie (Lotlot DeLeon). Angie has had a breakdown thanks to Fely’s constant nagging and, on doctor’s orders, Fely is set to be farmed out to a nursing home to ease the stress in the family home. Fortunately for Fely, before she’s even had chance to settle in, she stumbles across a magical photo studio that promises to make customers 50 years younger.

Miss Granny
Nova Villa in the film

What she doesn’t initially realise, is that the promise is quite literal, and following her visit, she is transformed into her 20-year-old self, played by Sarah Geronimo.

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A musical-comedy journey ensues, in which the talented singer rises to fame through Filipino reality TV shows by performing in her own ­unsuspecting grandson’s band, while struggling to avoid the romantic entreaties of said grandson, and attempting to conceal her true identity from her friends and family. But ­ultimately, she gets to live the life she never had, being a young, single mum whose husband died at sea.

The film could easily come across as a cynical attempt at demographic box ticking. Bernal has captured the current zeitgeist for all things K-Pop by remaking a successful 2014 South Korean film; she casts one of The Philippines’s most successful and aspirational performers – girls want to be her, and boys want to know her – in the shape of Geronimo, and dresses her in a stunning wardrobe of retro fifties classics that can only be a winner with the ‘“Insta-fashion” set as she does a passable impersonation of a reincarnated Southeast-Asian Audrey Hepburn. Plus, the score is a mix of catchy rock’n’roll, lounge, and big band crooners that are sure to crop up in Karaoke bars across the archipelago before too long. There’s even a possible nod to the lucrative Chinese box office in the casting of Chinese/Filipino actor Xian Lee in a supporting role.

Sarah Geronimo
Sarah Geronimo

Despite the slightly obvious attempts at commercial appeal, however, Bernal has actually delivered a charmingly quirky film that you can’t help but tap your foot and smile at. The two-hour run time is a little ambitious for such a candy-floss product, and the early scene setting could easily have lost 20-minutes at no ­detriment to the plot.

But the film really comes alive with Geronimo’s energetic ­performance, and the granny-in-a-girl’s-body interactions with her heavy metal-loving teenage bandmates. We’re honestly made to wait a bit too long for all this stuff, but it’s worth it when we get there.

Sarah Geronimo in Miss Granny. Courtesy Gulf Asia Entertainment / Front Row Filmed Entertainment
Sarah Geronimo has serious star power

The schmaltzy ending won’t win any prizes for originality either, but it’s fair to assume most audiences attending a Filipino musical comedy about a 20-year-old granny becoming a pop star won’t really be expecting Christopher Nolan levels of complexity.

It’s throwaway, enjoyable ­silliness, and on a slow weekend for family-friendly English-language releases – the horror Slender Man and the decidedly R-rated The Happytime Murders are the only two new releases this weekend. If subtitles don’t put you off (you’ll be able to understand a lot of the “Taglish” dialogue anyway), then this is one film that everyone from kids to grannies, and grannies in magically young bodies, will enjoy.

Geronimo, meanwhile, looks to be a star that could have the charisma and presence to cross over to global audiences in the same way the aforementioned Michelle Yeoh did a couple of decades ago.

Chris Newbould