In the renaissance of eat the rich films, it looks as though Star Cinema wants to write itself in the wet cement of something definitely for the history books. Reviews for A Very Good Girl – both from critics and local film buffs alike – date months back since the film’s release, and, well, they don’t look so well. After recently watching it, I started to think, “Am I the only one who actually likes this film?”
Revenge plots are widespread in media, with the likes of Promising Young Woman (2020) taking us on a rollercoaster with the protagonist’s unfolding vengeance. This genre of film has always been a point of interest to many. While the whys establish a strong foundation of the protagonist’s thirst for retribution, ultimately being the center of discourse regarding social commentaries, films of this genre focus on the execution of steaming anger whose manifestation has been calculated for a very long time. It’s entertaining to watch, yes. However, many people claim that A Very Good Girl does not achieve what it’s trying to be. But I digress. A Very Good Girl is progress in Philippine mainstream cinema, touching on topics like class struggle and the interplay between morality and insanity in a bold and fun film with two of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.
Before anything, a few concessions. I do think the film has something to say; perhaps it just didn’t know how to say it. Much of the criticism points out that its non-linear structure doesn’t work for a fast-paced film, and many of the flashbacks were overextended despite the backstory already being understood. The lack of consequences for loose ends, especially for the characters of Chie Filomeno and Jake Ejercito, was bothersome, leaving the audience to think, “How could they let her get away with this?” Perhaps it needed more of a display of how Mercy (Kathryn Bernardo’s character) is fallible, especially due to her working-class status to make the story more grounded.
Furthermore, the film has been called out for needing to figure out what it wants to be. It’s crazy and campy, and critics say it tries to be everything all at once. “It could have gone seriously dramatic, gone full camp, or gone really dark,” says one review. But a film does not have to be only one thing at a time. A similar discourse has revolved around Todd Hayne’s May December (2023), what with the whole camp versus melodrama debate on Twitter. A combination of genres can actually work, and in the case of A Very Good Girl, thematically and conceptually, the coexistence of camp resonates with the outworldliness of the character of Miss Dolly De Leon, Molly, and the drama is fit for the bleak nature of our overworked double-life protagonist, Mercy. The shifts in tone were necessary.
Some critiques pointed out that the roles weren’t for Bernardo and de Leon, saying that the characters simply don’t fit their mold and strengths. But the previous typecasting of both of these actresses was precisely why they took these roles.
“I was looking forward to playing someone with agency, because that’s so different to most of the characters I’ve played in the past,” says De Leon, happily portraying her anti-hero role.
Bernardo specifically asked for this role as it differs from the usual films we see her in. It was refreshing to see her in a major film without a man by her side, and my oh my, did she play the hell out of that character. Her performance as Mercy is definitely career-defining, taking on a role who, in a different world, is a stone-cold manipulating partner of Molly, and in another, is a broken proletariat who is just exhausted. The way she stares directly at the camera with her eyes filled with tears and rage is a masterclass. I would personally say both of the actresses truly mothered.
But what exactly is the film trying to say? A very good point made by a critic was that the ending makes it seem like Mercy has the moral high ground for not acting out her vengeance, but at the same time, she actually doesn’t after irreversibly damaging so many people along the way. They mentioned that ultimately, the working class ought to bring justice to their very own hands in a system that actively prevents them. The film takes steps back in the final stage of Mercy’s justice, and I think it’s valid that people think the movie has failed in this sense. However, I don’t think the film is trying to tell its audience what the working class should do, nor did it say that Mercy’s commitment to being the very good girl she wants to be was the right thing to do. Instead, it shows how much grit it takes to carry out violence in exchange for violence, especially for the victims.
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be Mercy’s burden to deconstruct the impunity of the rich. She wouldn’t have to play nice to the woman who put her at the world’s edge despite her already being beneath it. But even in a world that necessitates all these things, at the end of everything, it is still the working class who can oftentimes afford to have Mercy™ as opposed to those who are so used to receiving everything on a silver plate. It is the working class who feel like they have to make concessions, and that being “good” will reward them at some point in life despite that being a total uncertainty. The working class has always been told to make peace with their reality. I view the ending as Mercy just taking her defeat as a win because she is no longer allowing herself to carry the weight of vengeance being her obligation. The film simply shows how the system tires out the poor so much in a way that they’re just too exhausted to do something about it.