February 9, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Nuel Naval
Tagalog with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in the Philippines and briefly in the United States, the dramatic film “Family Matters” features a predominantly Filipino cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Members of a large Filipino family have various squabbles with each other and other people, while the family patriarch is coping with health issues.
Culture Audience: “Family Matters” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching appealing dramas that show the ups and downs of family relationships and how relatives deal with aging family members.
Despite some flaws, “Family Matters” is a drama with its heart in the right place, featuring good performances from the cast members. The movie drags on a little longer than it should, and some plot developments look forced, but the movie remains watchable. It’s a story that transcends nations and cultures, because there’s probably something relatable to most viewers about the family at the center of this story.
Directed by Nuel Naval and written by Mel Mendoza-del Rosario, “Family Matters” has a sprawling total running time of 134 minutes. Some of the movie tends to ramble and become unfocused, while other aspects of the movie seem too rushed without adequate explanation. It’s the type of movie that has some scenes that look like they’re going to end, but then the scenes keep going with needless repetition.
However, one of the biggest strengths of “Family Matters” (which is about a large family in an unnamed city in the Philippines) is that the adult characters have personalities that make these characters very unique and memorable. One of the biggest pitfalls of movies about large families is when the movie makes it hard to tell the family members apart from each other. “Family Matters” manages to mostly avoid this pitfall, because the family’s adult characters are written and portrayed as fully formed people, not stereotypes. However, the underage children in the family have the most underdeveloped storylines because the movie is really more about how the adults in the family interact with each other.
Here are the members of this large clan:
- Francisco Florencio (played by Noel Trinidad), the family strong-willed patriarch, is having some health issues that land him in a hospital and affect him throughout the entire story.
- Eleonor Florencio (played by Liza Lorena), the family matriarch, is the kind and loving wife of Francisco. They have four adult children, ranging in ages from mid-50s to mid-30s: son Francisco Jr. (nicknamed Kiko), daughter Fortune, daughter Ellen and son Enrico.
- Francisco “Kiko” Jr. (played by Nonie Buencamino), Francisco and Eleonor’s eldest child, works as a building construction engineer. Kiko tends to be bossy and arrogant with his three younger siblings and with his work subordinates.
- Odette (played by Agot Isidro), Kiko’s homemaker wife, patiently puts up with Kiko when he loses his temper and becomes difficult. She usually stays out of the family arguments.
- Kiko and Odette have three children, ranging in ages from about 13 to about 17. The eldest child is son Francis (played by Ian Pangilinan), followed by daughter Frances (played by Beatriz Teves) and daughter Florence (played by Alessandra Romero).
- Fortune (played by Mylene Dizon), Francisco and Eleonor’s second eldest child, is outspoken with her opinions. She gets involved in family arguments, but she is also sometimes a peacemaker. Fortune owns and operates a pet store with her loyal husband Nelson. Fortune and Nelson have three daughters, ranging in ages from about 8 to about 14: Nikki (played by Alexa Macanan), Nina (played by Krystal Mejes) and Nadia (played by Allyana Nicole Goyenechea).
- Nelson (played by James Blanco) is a mild-mannered spouse who gets annoyed whenever Kiko acts superior because Kiko has the highest income of the four siblings. Nelson and Fortune, who love taking care of animals, are proud of their pet store business, even though Kiko looks down on this type of work because it doesn’t require a college education.
- Ellen (played by Nikki Valdez), the third eldest child of Francisco and Eleonor, helps take care of her aging parents. She’s a never-married bachelorette who is insecure about being the only one of her siblings who hasn’t gotten married and who doesn’t have children. Now in her early 40s, Ellen feels she doesn’t have much time left if she wants to find a life partner and start her own family.
- Enrico (played by JC Santos), the youngest child of Francisco and Eleonor, is an entrepreneur who has recently opened his own gym. Enrico grew up being called a “menopause baby” because Eleonor unexpectedly got pregnant and gave birth to Enrico when she was middle-aged. Enrico is a divorced father of a daughter named Ginny (played by Allyson McBride), who’s about 13 or 14 years old. He shares custody of Ginny with his ex-wife Glenda (played by Ina Feleo), who has a tense relationship with Enrico. Enrico also has a daughter named Ivy (played by Kzhoebe Nicole Baker), who is about 6 or 7 years old, with his live-in girlfriend Irene (played by Anna Luna).
“Family Matters” begins with a family emergency: Francisco wakes up in bed with severe chest pains and is unable to breathe. He is rushed to a hospital, while Ellen makes calls to her siblings to tell them about this medical crisis. After all of the siblings and Eleonor have gathered in the hospital and are worried that Francisco might die, the hospital’s Dr. Salvador (played by Gerry O’Hara) tells them that Francisco will be okay. Francisco did not have a heart attack or a stroke, says the doctor. Instead, Francisco has been diagnosed with early onset asthma, so he is prescribed medication and a nebulizer.
Francisco’s health scare motivates the siblings to rethink their lives and start paying more attention to their elderly parents. There is some debate over whether or not Francisco and Eleonor should move to an assisted living retirement home. Francisco and Eleonor adamantly do not want to take that option. Francisco is somewhat in denial about how his medical diagnosis will change his lifestyle, because he would like to think that he will still have the physical strength that he had before the diagnosis.
Meanwhile, Ellen starts to feel more pressure to find her soul mate, because she wants her parents to still be alive if she ever gets married. For the past eight months, Ellen has been talking to a Filipino American named Chris (played by Eren Kereci), who lives in the U.S. and is about the same age as Ellen. Chris is a divorced father who has his own business. Ellen tells her family that Chris is her “boyfriend,” even though she and Chris haven’t met in person yet. Ellen decides to take the plunge and go to the U.S. to visit Chris and see if their relationship will progress.
Ellen’s visit to the U.S. leaves Francisco and Eleonor temporarily without a caretaker, and the siblings don’t want their elderly parents to spend a lot of time alone. And so, the siblings come up with a plan to have Kiko, Fortune and Enrico take turns having Francisco and Eleonor temporarily stay at each of the sibling’s respective homes. The movie shows what happens when this plan is put in motion.
During the course of the movie, the children of Francisco and Eleonor have to come to terms with their insecurities about themselves. Kiko begins to feel guilty because he has let his workaholic ways prevent him from spending better quality time with his family. Fortune also has to re-evaluate how she has been balancing her work life with her personal life. Ellen puts more pressure on herself to find a soul mate. Enrico (who has jumped around from job to job) wants to stop having a reputation for being flaky and change into being a more responsible person.
Meanwhile, Francisco and Eleonor have to face the realities of their own mortality and what type of legacy they want to leave for their family. “Family Matters” shows several occasions where the family members gather for meals. And the inevitable bickering among family members happen, but there is also a lot of love and camaraderie. Enrico has the most turbulence in his personal life, because his ex-wife Glenda doesn’t really trust him and might fight for full custody of Ginny.
Ginny adores her father, but her parents broke up before she was old enough to know what happened. The divorce is something that the family doesn’t really like to talk about. During a family gathering, Ginny asks Irene why Enrico and Glenda split up, and Irene awkwardly says that she’s not the best person to answer that question. Francisco and Eleonor are sitting at the same table. Francisco tactfully says that when Enrico and Glenda were married, Enrico used to be immature. Francisco adds that Enrico and Glenda wanted different things out of life.
“Family Matters” has a lot of “slice of life” scenes that show conversations between the family members. But there are also some scenes that pack in the melodrama. Let’s put it this way: Francisco’s trip to the hospital in the beginning of the movie won’t be the last time that someone in the family ends up in a hospital. The melodrama in the movie looks overly contrived and awkwardly placed. It doesn’t look as convincing and natural as other scenes in “Family Matters.”
With such a large ensemble cast, it’s truly an asset that all of the cast members are very believable as family members. There isn’t any bad acting, which helps make “Family Matters” more enjoyable. Trinidad as Francisco and Lorena and Eleonor have some wonderful moments showing a longtime married couple who are reflecting on their lives and coming to grips with the inevitability of death. Santos as Enrico also stands out for his portrayal of Enrico’s evolution as a parent and as a partner.
“Family Matters” is at its best when it shows the realistic family dynamics within this tight-knit clan. Loyalties and rivalries can stay the same or change over time. A family member’s self-perception can also be very different from what other family members actually think of that person.
For example, in an emotionally moving scene, Ellen (who feels ashamed for being her parents’ only child who hasn’t gotten married or had children) tearfully tells her mother Eleonor that she’s sorry she turned out to be a disappointment. Eleonor lovingly responds that Ellen has always been a blessing. It’s a turning point for Ellen and her self-esteem issues. In another example, Kiko likes to think of himself as a respected alpha male of the family, but certain things happen that make him understand that other family members perceive Kiko to be overbearing and overly judgmental.
The last 30 minutes of “Family Matters” really going into overdrive with sentimentality—but in a way that is endearing, not annoying. The message of the movie is loud and clear: Whatever problems or differences that family members might experience, it’s always best to try to resolve them honestly, and to appreciate loved ones while they are still alive. It’s not an original theme for a family movie, but it’s a timeless and classic theme that “Family Matters” handles in a mostly entertaining way.
Cineko Productions released “Family Matters” in select U.S. cinemas on February 3, 2023. The movie was released in the Philippines on December 25, 2022.