When news about "Seven Sundays" first came out on social media, my attention was immediately grabbed with the stellar combination of actors that were assembled for this project. Now that I had actually seen the movie, all the more I am commending the casting director for this unprecedented, brilliantly inspired casting decision that really made this film even more special than it already was on paper.
Manuel Bonifacio, 69, learned bad news from his doctor that he had only barely two months to live because of terminal cancer. His last wish was for his four busy children to spend these last seven Sundays of his life together with him in their family home.
At first, all four siblings A, B, C and D were saddled with personal baggage and past issues with each other that made these reunions painful instead of happy. With each passing Sunday though, these lost familial bonds were slowly being mended. Suddenly, Manuel receives another piece of news which threatened to break these bonds all over again.
A is eldest brother Allan, played by a comebacking Aga Muhlach. Muhlach can still use his big puppy-dog eyes to great use in those emotional scenes to make us all care about his familial and financial predicaments. The more mature Muhlach may have gained some heft physically, but this actor still had his dramatic chops intact, which was especially seen in those moving scenes with his son Marc (Kyle Echarri).
B is second son Bryan, played by Dingdong Dantes. He is the one sibling who was able to succeed financially, and therefore tended to be bossy and had to deal with different issues as to what he needed to do for his family. Bryan had so many chips on his shoulder, which gave Dantes several potent dramatic confrontation scenes, all of which he delivered with elegant dignity. These scenes affirm that he is one of, if not the best, actor of his generation.
C is the only daughter Cha, played by Cristine Reyes. It could have been the story of just three brothers and the story probably still would have worked, but having a daughter in there provided a showcase of how Filipino brothers are very protective of their sisters. Cha's husband Jerry (Kean Cipriano) may be a good father to their kids, but he was also an incurable philanderer. Reyes was so raw and vulnerable in portraying the hurtful pain in this martyr wife character, which made us all want to reach out through the screen to help her.
D is youngest son Dexter, played by Enrique Gil. He grew up basically alone, since their mom died early, their dad was usually abroad working and his siblings were already in college, and this estrangement due to the significant age gap was sensitively portrayed by Gil. As an actor, Gil tended to give way to his more senior co-stars as his character was really meant to be distant, but when it came for his moment to shine in the climactic confrontation scene, he did.
As the patriarch Manuel, Ronaldo Valdez was in the center of everyone's story and he was able to hold the whole film together with his geniality and genuineness, like how most of us regard our own fathers. Unlike most movies about senior citizens, Valdez's Manuel here is still sound of mind and active of body and he had a healthy sense of humor and joie de vivre, so the dramatic aspects of the story never slid down to melodrama. Honestly, at no point did he look like a man with terminal cancer.
Ketchup Eusebio was Manuel's loyal companion and confidante, his nephew Jun. I thought that Cacai Bautista was hilarious as Bryan's homely executive assistant who had a huge crush on her boss. April Matienzo was sprightly and cute as Dex's neighborhood friend Camille. Donita Rose was underused as Bechay, Allan's very pregnant wife. Iza Calzado and Edward Barber have cameos in surprise roles -- no spoken lines but still poignant.
Jeffrey Tam was appropriately annoying as Mr. Kim, a Korean businessman who wanted to buy the ABC's Family Store to have a parking lot for his mall across the street. Ryan Bang suddenly showed up at the end to play another Mr. Kim, the previous Mr. Kim's brother.
This final over-optimistic scene, complete with a clunky dance showdown, felt awkward given the intensity of drama preceding it, but I guess it is there to end the hopeful film on a high note.
There were moments in "Seven Sundays" that reminded of another cherished family film "Tanging Yaman" (Laurice Guillen, 2000). The long-strained relations between the rich second son and the humbled eldest son was the most obvious similarity.
The various stories may all sound familiar and the ending may have been predictable, however director Cathy Garcia-Molina and her talented cast told the Bonifacio family's journey in a warm and relatable way that all Filipinos can identify with. (With the English subtitles in the print I saw, I'm sure foreigners can relate as well.) 8/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."