A Very Good Girl is a story based on the concept that if bad things happen to good people, then those said good people should take it upon themselves to set the balance right. The movie starts out as a revenge thriller, but there are notes to the story that end up making it so much more. Yet, an absurdist, haphazard quality doesn’t let the movie have the impact it seemed to be building up to.
First, we should address the performances. Kathryn Bernardo playing the role of Philo and Dolly De Leon as Molly Suzura carry the weight of the entire movie on their shoulders. Usually, when critiquing performances, we find ourselves more impressed by the older actors, but this time, it was the opposite. Kathryn Bernardo was intense as the conflicted Philo, who struggled to maintain the line between right and wrong in her pursuit of justice. She spoke a lot with her eyes, and as ridiculous as her wardrobe and makeup were at times, she used them to her advantage. There isn’t a single second where you have cause to doubt her commitment to the role she plays, and there are absolutely no cracks in her performance. Contrary to that, Dolly De Leon somehow seemed to be missing something crucial to her character. It is hard to put our finger on it. Frankly, the missing element is more noticeable in the latter half of the film, when the real madness of the situation takes over and the actor is unable to keep up with it. This stands out more prominently when you witness what Kathryn Bernardo brings to the table. It is true that excuses can be made for that, but when you see that element missing even in the final moments of the film, where the masks had actually fallen off, you realize that perhaps the actor never grasped that about her character. She simply lacked the intensity, or maybe, in her case, considering her seniority, she failed to bring it to the screen. As for the supporting cast, they were merely screen fillers and a means to an end to the development of Philo and Molly’s relationship.
Coming to the movie itself, the first half plays out like an absolute cliche. It is the revenge of the downtrodden towards the greedy, powerful people, and each step is predictable, having been seen many times over in so many other stories. But the narrative takes a sharp turn in the second half by depicting a rather codependent and toxic relationship based on deceit. The development of this arc was the creepiest and most interesting part of the story, so much so that we question why this was not the main plot of the movie. The buildup to this part should have been different; in fact, it should also have been presented in a different format, like a series, and not a rushed movie. However, in the interest of seeing something novel, we were willing to give this a chance. But then came the final half hour of the film, and it was just one misguided attempt after another to shock and horrify the viewers. It played out so predictably that our hearts broke once again for the lost potential of the movie.
When the audience starts watching a movie like A Very Good Girl, they already have a fair idea of the plot and how it will go. The revenge seeker will slowly work their way up the villain’s circle to become indispensable to them, only for it to fall apart when the truth gets revealed at the most crucial moment of the plan. We have seen this story too many times, and there wouldn’t have been any complaints about this movie if it had stuck to these cliches. However, the film started promising something sinister, which made us think that, for once, we would see a main character actually possess shades of gray. Usually, the said ‘grayness’ is the choices they make while taking revenge on the bad guys, but the people getting hurt are also evil. Them becoming representative of ‘gray’ because of their refusal to ‘forgive and forget’ rings a little hollow. That is why, when we saw Philo make harmful choices that hurt a few innocent people in A Very Good Girl, we were happy to see a new complexity to the character. It is the bare minimum in storytelling, but we were starved. This could have also been one of those perfect naming moments, where the title of the story was way too apt in multiple ways. However, it became clear that the writers could not make up their minds about the direction or purpose of the story, and this ruined what could have been something extremely good. They needed to pick a lane and stick to it. This is also in terms of the comedy, which was attempted in one of the earlier scenes, where the women break out into a fight, and this shoddy attempt at humor had us rolling our eyes.
A Very Good Girl is one of the movies that you watch as a lesson in what not to do. Maybe don’t present women as just vixens and victims; perhaps show them as capable of critical thinking who don’t fall for every ruse that comes their way that they haven’t actively planned, and finally, make up your mind about what you want your story to say. Towards the end of the film, the moral message felt so empty because of the lack of buildup to it.
Watching the movie was a process of sitting through predictability, having our hopes rise with a surprise, and then all dashed to the ground by returning to cliches that had lost their base in the narrative. Normally, a bad movie doesn’t affect us as much because they are a dime a dozen, but A Very Good Girl is not leaving our minds. It seems impossible to say, ‘Don’t watch the film’ because there is something to discuss here—an element of intrigue that needs a better retelling. We just want that picked up because anyone who watches this film is going to be left puzzled and obsessed by what could have been, and that should be addressed.