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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 27, 2004

Filipino flick warms the heart

By Kevin Thomas
Los Angeles Times

 •  'Crying Ladies'

Unrated,some adult situations, but suitable as family fare

110 minutes

In Tagalog and English, with English subtitles

An endearing comedy that deftly blends sentiment and grit, and features a clutch of top Filipino stars, Mark Meily's "Crying Ladies" centers on three friends coping with day-to-day life in one of Manila's poorest neighborhoods. High-spirited and good-natured, "Crying Ladies" never loses touch with reality.

The vivacious Stella (Sharon Cuneta) is struggling to put her life together after serving a year in prison for a petty, undefined form of con artistry. Stella not only has lost her husband, who has happily remarried, but also custody of her 7-year-old son Bong (Julio Pacheco).

Living in a hovel, she survives on whatever work she can find and seizes an opportunity for five days' work as a "crier" at the wakes preceding a traditional Chinese funeral as well as at the elaborate ceremony. She lines up as fellow criers her friends Aling (Hilda Koronel), a shopkeeper who was once a minor B-movie actress, perhaps no more than a bit player, and who dreams of a "comeback"; and Choleng (Angel Aquino), a naive, devout type who works at an orphanage but can't resist having an affair with her best friend's husband (Raymond Bagatsing). During this time Stella has managed to persuade her ex to let their son stay with her for three weeks before Guido moves Bong and his new wife to a distant city.

"Crying Ladies" is enriched by a strong subplot involving Wilson (Eric Quizon), a Chinese Filipino who has hired the women to cry for his late father in hopes that this will open the gates of heaven to him. Wilson is going through these traditional motions to please his mother (Sherry Lara), yet these days of mourning allow mother and son time to contemplate forgiving a husband and father who in fact caused his family considerable grief.

In the meantime, Stella tries to show Bong a good time while pursuing her dream of singing and acting — and striving to put food on her table and keep a roof, no matter how flimsy, over her head.

Cuneta makes Stella appealing, an impetuous woman who makes mistakes, understands full well how steep a price she sometimes has to pay as a result, but remains determined to be upbeat and undefeated. She's scrappy and resilient, and her wide range of street-smart tactics to save a peso and scrape by are a source of much affectionate humor. Koronel and Aquino also are engagingly amusing in their own foibles.

In his assured feature directorial debut, Meily understands that a comedy that deals compassionately with loss also needs to end on a positive note yet wisely doesn't overdo it. The dreams that come true at the fade for Stella and her friends are modest. As women who have learned to live in the moment, they instinctively sense that nothing lasts forever.