‘UNBREAKABLE’ is a chick flick about friendship between females, which has been done before in local films like “Moral”, “Sana’y Wala ng Wakas” and “BFF: Best Friends Forever”. But it’s closest peg is actually the 1988 movie with Bette Midler, “Beaches” (also known as “Forever Friends”), about two females who become life long friends, tracing the ups and down in their lives.
There are other notable films in this genre, like “Old Acquaintance” with Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins in 1943, which was successfully remade in 1981 as “Rich and Famous” with Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset, the last movie of Director George Cukor (whose most well-loved film for us is “My Fair Lady” with Audrey Hepburn.) Then there’s “Julia” in 1977 with Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, the wacky 1997 comedy “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” with Mia Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow, and our personal favorite, “Thelma and Louise” in 1991, with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis both giving memorable performances and introducing Brad Pitt.
But the closest peg of “Unbreakable” is really “Beaches”, which was so successful it even had a TV remake starring Idina Menzel in the Midler role. Just like “Beaches”, “Unbreakable” starts on a note of impending doom with someone trying to commit suicide while the rain is falling relentlessly. This colors everything with an undertone of bittersweet schmaltz. Even the ending is the same, with one of them having a terminal illness and the dying girl leaving her only child to her best friend who never had a child of her own.
Just like “Beaches”, “Unbreakable” is a sentimental melodrama with engineered plot contrivances and manipulative but poignant machinations. They do help forward the story, with plenty of big lachrymal and loud confrontations that aim to tug at your heartstrings, but done ingeniously with a few creative tweaks to keep the material fresh.
This is exactly the kind of weepy, overdone “kadramahan” that most local viewers go for, so it’s not at all surprising that “Unbreakable” is a big hit. And it’s undeniable that it works because of Mae Cruz Alviar’s frenetic direction and the bravura performances of lead stars Angelica Panganiban and Bea Alonzo who are both absolutely watchable.
The early parts of the movie where they meet for the first time are treated more like comedy, with Angelica as Deena, the irreverent babaeng bakla who names her boobies as Chestina and Chabelina. She is first seen in a fight with another woman who claims she stole her boyfriend. Bea as Mariel tries to intervene and gets being punched herself. And that is the auspicious start of their life-long friendship.
Deena lives alone. Her dad is dead and her mom works in Norway, so she is the needy, clingy type of friend who craves for love and attention. Mariel is much stronger as the eldest in their dysfunctional family, with her mom (an underutilized Rosanna Roces) always forgiving her philandering dad (Allan Paule.) You cannot fault the film for it’s believable character building.
Angelica is alternately funny and pitiful as the charming and free spirit that Deena is, even if you could feel that the film’s focus is really less on her than that of Bea as Mariel, whose role most female viewers will find more relatable. But they do have great chemistry as life long friends.
Just like in “Beaches”, which lacked the spontaneity of life, the BFF’s go through a whole range of tribulations especially manufactured for them (like someone going abroad to opportunely leave her friend with her husband so the two can have a moment of dalliance together). Yes, even their sharing a common love interest is part of the consructed embroidery to make their relationship as friends even more complicated and colorful for someone to tell her friend: “You are nothing to me.”
In the light of the highs and lows in their connection, it’s understandable that the men in their lives (Richard Gutierrez and Ian Veneracion) take second fiddle, but they both do ingratiatingly well in their respective roles. Also giving superb support is Gloria Diaz as the mother-in-law who’s unexplainably so mean to one friend and so cloyingly sweet with the other.
But eventually, the best friends come to comprehend that the most significant relationship in their lives will always be each other. The ending of “Unbreakable” is on a beautiful stretch of beach and we could almost hear Bette Midler singing “Wind Beneath My Wings”, the hit theme song of “Beaches”.