Sexy films of late had been exploiting the affairs between a lonely bored older female and a buff vigorous younger male. Within this month of August alone, there had been already two other films with this basic plot, namely "Glorious," "Belle Douleur," and "Malamaya."
This trend continues and had now extended into the mainstream domain with "Just a Stranger." While this one contained all the main ingredients, writer-director Jason Paul Laxamana managed to give it a spin all his own to make it stand out over the others.
Thirty-something Mae (Anne Curtis) is the trophy wife of a successful wealthy businessman Phil Pimentel (Edu Manzano). While sunbathing on a beach in Lisbon, Portugal, Mae met 19-year-old Jericho (Marco Gumabao), son of a Philippine diplomat.
Mae took up Jericho's offer of a private tour which led to playful teasing about their age difference and, much later, ended up in a hotel bed together for a night of lustful intimacy.
After that steamy one-night stand, though, higher cosmic forces had other plans for Mae and Jericho.
Anne Curtis is continuing her winning streak on the big screen which started last year with "Sid and Aya," "Buybust," and "Aurora." As the mysterious Mae, Curtis totally owned this movie with a winsome likable portrayal of a flawed character of questionable morality.
Curtis' Mae was a femme fatale through and through. We actually do not know anything about her past, nor her exact age. She knew she was beautiful and sexy and she used it to dig gold, and she got what she wanted. Her best scene was that bold tirade in the church, delivered as only Curtis can, and still get away with it with class and camp.
Marco Gumabao played Mae's boy toy, Jericho. When we first met Jericho in Lisbon, he was all macho and a confident lover boy. But later, we discover that his bravado was all a front for an immature boy Jekjek, struggling under the collective thumbs of his controlling parents Rufi and Judi (Robert Seña and Isay Alvarez) and his sweet virginal girlfriend, Febbie (Jasmine Hollingworth).
Gumabao may look too mature to convince us he was only 19. But performance-wise, he did convince us that he was a lost little child inside that man.
As an onscreen pair, Curtis and Gumabao looked compatible together. There was no awkward May-December feel at all between them. With Curtis's youthful aura, she never came off as twice Gumabao's age at all, as the movie wanted us to accept.
We sensed that their union, illicit as it may be, was actually good for these two attractive but lonely people. Laxamana created an ironic situation where these two trapped characters were only free when they were together, but their whole relationship itself was imprisoned in a cage of societal conventions.
Laxamana used the device of a confessional box to narrate how Mae and Jericho's forbidden love story began and progressed. The young priest was just newly-ordained and was on his first day on the job, then here comes this classy woman, dressed all in black (hat, shades and ensemble) kneeling in front of him to confess her sins. Josef Elizalde's portrayal as the priest was unexpectedly entertaining. His curious priest was quite nosy about the lurid details of their affair, and his side comments were very funny.
The writer-director is on a roll with his sad love stories "100 Tula Para kay Stella," "The Day After Valentine," and "Between Maybes" all doing well at the box office. The technical aspects (cinematography, editing, sound, music) were all of top-notch and glossy quality.
Laxamana's pride in his home province of Pampanga was evident in his expositions about the history and culture of San Fernando. The central relationship of "Just a Stranger" did not end as open as they did in his other films, but I wished there could have been another way out for them.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."