Grandma’s Boy

Reason #68034 to watch movies:
It’s a cheap way to travel.

Consider the visual destinations of the recent films I’ve seen: Italy (The Best of Youth), American Heartland (Transamerica), Alcatraz Island (X-Men: The Last Stand), South Korea (3-Iron), and Europe (Munich). This time, the movies take me to the Philippines, where I meet a Filipino boy (Jiro Manio) named after a local magician. Don’t hold your breath, it’s not David Blaine. The magical yet awkward name is Magnifico.

There’s nothing magical about Magnifico’s world. He lives in a poverty-stricken neighborhood and his family seems cursed with miseries. He hears his parents (Albert Martinez and Lorna Tolentino) complain about their list of troubles: younger sister Helen (Isabella de Leon) has cerebral palsy; his older brother (Danilo Barrios) lost his scholarship; and grandma (Gloria Romero) fell off the roof. She recovers in the hospital but she’s discovered to have a fatal cancer. From the way the parents are receiving the news, Magnifico perceives death more as an expense and less as a loss. This makes the young boy start thinking. He might be little, and he wants to help out. And watch out, he’s got plans, even if it all unfolds in secrecy.

These couple of photos might give a hint as to what he’s up to.

“Magnifico” is a bit jarring to watch because its picture quality is below the average film. I’ve seen good-looking indie films, but this one surely looks low budget. But the story is the priority for me. Movies shouldn’t be limited to pretty pictures, right? I thought the strength of the film is the cleverly structured screenplay. Not only do we see a portrait of a boy, but also, a depiction of a community. We are introduced to many characters that may or may not help Magnifico with his plans. I like that the movie stays grounded though and doesn’t let the boy off the hook so easily. Surely, this makes the young hero earn our admiration.

For the most part, the film remains engaging as it treats death in a practical yet amusing manner. Sure, there’s lingering sadness as grandma’s condition worsens. But you had to smile when the grandson makes her promise not to die yet, because there are obstacles to his plans. On the last act however, the movie accelerates to full-on weepy drama. “Magnifico” is unashamed to be overtly sentimental as it strives to summon tears from your eyes. It’s a cheesy technique, but somehow the film earns it. Get some tissues. Be prepared.

There are a couple of undeniably moving scenes in the movie. The first one involves Magnifico’s plans with his afflicted sister. And the other one is the ending itself. I’m not going to give it away with but it contains one of the most devastating ironies I’ve seen in a movie. “Magnifico” really surprised me in the way it overcame its discrepancies and the way it easily grabbed me. As I leave for another movie destination, I realize that sometimes it’s not about place, but what you go through. Boy, that “Magnifico” – what a trip!

Grade: A