Julia Barretto and Carlo Aquino undoubtedly shine with their performances. If only the rest of Expensive Candy was just as good.
Julia Barretto has been a bit of a risk taker when it comes to her projects lately where she is known to pick a diverse set of roles at every outing. There’s Kath in Vince & Kath & James to Mika in the sci-fi romance Love You to the Stars and Back, and PJ, the nursing student-turned-zombie killer in Block Z. And this 2022, her distinct sense of choice shows itself once more with Julia’s return to the silver screen in two years with Expensive Candy. This go around, she embodies her most daring role to date, that of a sex worker.
Julia playing what looks to be a nuanced portrayal in her first on-screen team up with Carlo Aquino? Call us intrigued. What looked to be one of 2022’s more interesting films though turns into a bit more of a dud. While it delivers great lead performances, it falls flat in terms of its story and what it wants to say.
A VIRGIN MEETS A SEX WORKER
Written and directed by Jason Paul Laxamana, Expensive Candy centers on Toto (Carlo Aquino), a history teacher who at is thirties has yet to lose his virginity or be with a woman for that matter. Spurred by his mom, Toto goes for a night out and stumbles upon Area, a place for men to elicit the services of sex workers. While initially turned off, he comes across Candy (Julia Barretto), a sex worker he immediately falls in love with. Their meet-up inspires Toto to continue to save to afford Candy (hence the movie’s title). As the movie progresses, Toto and Candy continue to develop their relationship as they deal with the unique circumstances of their pairing.
A movie like this immediately lives or dies with the chemistry of the leads, and luckily, Carlo Aquino and Julia Barretto deliver on that front. Both actors give stellar performances and display a chemistry that works. For Carlo, he turns Toto from a pretty introverted man more interested with his art into someone willing to do what is necessary to afford Candy’s services and get closer to her. As the film progresses, you get to see how Toto grows, shedding that initial naivety to assurance of what he wants.
As for Julia, it’s another knockout performance with her role as Candy. Candy knows what she wants and Julia delivers that confidence to a definitive T. Whether she walks the streets or works the nightclub, Candy does so as if she was born for the limelight. Even though this is the first time that Julia is doing something this bold, the star handles all that with ease and conviction of a veteran star. But at the same time, Julia also embodies the role with tenderness as Candy hints that she wants something more for herself. There’s a story behind Candy, something Julia effectively yokes out.
STRONG START, SHAKY ENDING
It’s actually quite admirable that Expensive Candy tries to portray sex work as not something that is looked down upon and more as a reality of life. It’s a kind of depiction you don’t often see in Filipino films, especially from ones made by major studios. Well, at least in the beginning though. The problem is that the movie is not consistent with this theme, and as a result, Expensive Candy lacks cohesion.
By the start of the movie, Candy makes it clear that she’s good at her job and it’s a profession she wasn’t coerced in. Even Toto doesn’t automatically judge Candy as someone who is beneath him. It gets the ball rolling on an interesting note that hints at a story worth following. The problem is that the film isn’t consistent with its tone, theme, or what it has to say. As the movie goes on, Candy’s sex work all of a sudden becomes an issue for Toto. While the movie doesn’t demonize sex work and tries to be pragmatic about it, it honestly feels like it’s inadvertently saying sex work is a bad thing, especially during the second half of the story.
There’s even a scene where Toto talks about making money the clean way, as if to say what Candy is doing is bad. It also doesn’t go too deep into the realities of what being a sex worker is like. While it is hinted during Candy’s story arch, it can often come off as surface level discussion of the dynamics of sex work.
A MEH LOVE STORY
Meanwhile, what could have been an interesting love story between two people from different worlds gets sidelined as the movie spends a lot of time following Toto in his many ways, some of it illegal, to make money in order to afford Candy’s services and spend time with her. Expensive Candy also has the tendency to time jump as Toto saves money to see Candy. Candy is a special girl no doubt, but the movie doesn’t give enough time for its main characters to spend time with each other outside their professions. That only happens when they are forced to do so. It limits their growth as the increased screen time could have given their relationship more color.
If the movie wants to say that these two people weren’t just meant for each other, that’s fine. But the way it gets there is jarring and bumpy. At one point, it even gives shades of a thriller, which comes out of nowhere. It’s s shame really since Julia and Carlo do a great job in this movie as they do their best to tell Candy and Toto’s whirlwind relationship. At least, the film exceptionally uses Alamat’s Sa Panaginip Na Lang, which soundtracked one of the most moving scenes of the entire movie.
Jason Paul Laxamana was definitely onto something with a tale that had the potential to be one of the most unique love stories told in recent Philippine cinema. But the movie sadly drops the ball big time as it reverts to a preachy drama with stereotypical ideas. As much as the film tries to give depth to its characters, it also ties them to their situations in life. It’s a so-so movie whose great acting is bogged down by a story that could have been told so much better. At the very least, Expensive Candy further solidifies Julia Barretto as one of her generation’s best actors. At this point, she really can do anything. She, along with Carlo, just need a better story. Expensive Candy has a lot of potential that sadly isn’t just tapped better enough because the end result is a tale more sour than sweet.
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