It's a setup as old as ancient theatre: Three people live together in one house, one man shared sexually by a woman and another man. I don't blame you if you're already yawning before the movie even begins. I'd rather make a list of similar past films myself. But the difference is in the details, and Imoral hurdles the ho-hum premise by becoming a carefully studied presentation of how exactly this man, that woman, and the man's lover live and rub against each other. From the onset, when articles of clothing get mixed up in each other's luggage, the dynamics of the trio are dramatized in concrete, tangible terms. The film escapes being passe by being specific. It also wisely microscopes character more than plot, and uses that as its own sustainable drama.
To the film's credit, though one man (Arnold Reyes) is spelled out as "gay", the other man (Paolo Paraiso) has no easy labels, least of which "straight". He could be bi, he could be poly-whatever -- the movie trailer simply calls him "man". Here's that classic character who fucks both the woman and the homo, but thank god, here's a film that won't let him get away with it without picking apart his insides. I'm tired of the oft-used excuse in cinema that this kind of fantasy man (a straight man who can love a gay man) is a mystery we can only marvel. Dante has real, graspable feelings. The shades of differences between the way he relates to -- and feels for -- his woman and his man is my favorite aspect of the film. When a boy (Edgar Allan Guzman) befriends Jonathan, the Gay One, Dante reacts with something akin to jealousy, perhaps springing from love or childishness, or both. I'm only slightly bothered by the saintliness of the gay man, as if his love needed to be pure and untarnished to justify his existence, but I can still buy its truth. His preachy but understanding sister is a nice touch, a dose of tough love cynicism.
The movie falls apart in the final stretch, and that's because, despite the built-in friction of the setup, the film is remarkably slim in tension. When a bag of money lands on their laps, giving them reason to go their separate ways, I had to check my memory if there was enough drive for them to leave, or if the household had been boiled hot enough for that compulsion to flee. Are the woman's insecurities strong enough to warrant her whiny behavior or did the film unjustly turn her into a bitch all of a sudden? The answer is that all this is perfectly justifiable through logic. But there's a flatness to the proceedings that leaves out the sense of urgency, that immediate understanding from the gut. When you get down to it, Imoral is an intelligent diagram of a situation, but not a vivid experience of it. Director Adolfo B. Alix Jr. is now notorious for fast output (an impressive eight films in two years!), and I had to speculate if the cursory lightness that worked in a film like Daybreak is here an aesthetic choice or the by-product of ease. I wonder if Imoral would have benefitted from a little more rage, an I-can-tell-this-only-once madness that would drive the human demons into the surface, make it feel like dirt on fingers, not simply seen, and would give that silly title some credence, apart from the tacked-on religious imagery.