‘Expensive Candy’ is a flop for romanticizing poverty and sex work

15 min read
'Expensive Candy' is a flop for romanticizing poverty and sex work

The stigmatization of the subject, as stated by Sharmila Parmanand in her lengthy research on sex work, “increases the precarity of sex workers and inadvertently normalizes exploitation,” The criminalization of sex work further jeopardizes the health and safety of people who work in the sex industry because it allows for unchecked discrimination and makes it impossible for workers to report violations of the law. Instead of being provided with legally enforceable rights and dignity in their labor.

This viewpoint is supported by the Philippine Sex Workers Collective, which also disputes the common perception of sex workers as helpless victims. The collective goes so far as to assert that “when women have to pick between risky employment, sex work is a better alternative for some.”

Candy insists over and over that engaging in sexual work is voluntarily done by her. She says that “tumaas ang sarili kong halaga (my self-worth grew)” when referring to the amount of money that she obtains from clients because she believes that both her work and the way that she negotiates her body have value. Her previous socioeconomic circumstances have a significant impact on her work, particularly Candy’s reluctance to follow the same humdrum route as the rest of her impoverished family. Nevertheless, in spite of all of these statements of agency, Candy still appears dissatisfied, or at least the acting and filmmaking are intended to give the impression that she is.

It’s possible that the film’s true message is that commodified bodies are awful no matter what, and that capitalism undermines any true claim to freedom of choice. Barretto’s character, it turns out, is still a victim despite the fact that she hustles her way into higher positions and accumulates extra money of her own volition. Candy boasts, in reference to her area of business, “Dito lang ako magaling” (I’m only excellent at this), which translates to “I’m only good at this.” However, she is nonetheless stigmatized for it since it isn’t “clean,” a sentiment that is conveyed to her by none other than a male. She is the one who brings it up to her.

The moment that Expensive Candy decides to view the world from the perspective of a guy, the film is doomed to fail. What follows is a simplistic examination of sexual labor and an unsettling romanticization of financial hardship. It has the nerve to suggest that the solution to the myth of upward mobility is just to put in more effort. It also has the audacity to assert that happiness can only be attained by working in jobs that are considered to be “clean,” which are virtually usually decided by a patriarchal culture that is full of hypocrites.

This is a tale of Toto’s virginity. Yes, in whole seriousness. The first half of the movie is devoted entirely to making fun of Carlo Aquino’s character, who also happens to be a teacher, and making fun of the fact that he is still a virgin. In the later parts of the movie, the focus shifts to Toto’s impoverishment because this is the only thing that prevents him from being with Candy all the time because she demands more service fees. After that, as it gets closer to the end, it morphs into a phony suspense drama that has a bittersweet tone.

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Unsurprisingly, the movie encourages us to have sympathy for Toto, despite the fact that it is progressively more difficult to take his side as the plot progresses. In order to obtain sufficient funds to cover the cost of Candy’s services, he connives and cheats his family as well as his students. My preceding sentence might have been unsettling to the script, editing, and music of the movie because all of these elements appear to believe that this is a loving gesture.

Nothing could have prepared me for the employment of lighthearted tones and humorous cues in sequences that dealt with the abuse of power by a teacher as well as other matters that were questionable from a legal standpoint. It was neither funny nor endearing, but hey, it was all for “love,” and to quote the newly proclaimed King Charles III: “whatever ‘in love’ means.” It was all done for “love.”

The way in which the movie addresses issues of social class and poverty, which are connected with its perspective on sexual labor, also leaves a lot to be desired. Toto is the personification of someone who reifies a hierarchy of employment, “where domestic work is considered as noble and sex work as stigmatizing,” according to the book. And if the movie had genuinely investigated this stance, as well as the ways in which the traditions of Philippine religion and culture probably drive this kind of thinking, then perhaps we would have had a greater understanding of Barretto’s character in relation to these limitations.

Even though Barretto is giving a monologue about the reasons why she works in the adult entertainment industry, the movie still feels the need to portray her predicament in a negative light. In some instances, it even compares her behavior to that of recovering addicts who relapse back into their vices. Toto sees Candy’s inability to completely separate herself from her sex business as a damning reflection of his low socio-economic standing, and he says this with a caustic tone. If he had been more prosperous, in his opinion, she would not have been forced to rely on her labor. Toto’s remark to Candy that “Ang mahal mong mahalin” (which literally translates to “Loving you is expensive”) is likely to be considered for the title of Sadboi Line of the Year.

Despite Carlo Aquino’s best efforts to maintain a nice demeanor, the character of Toto, who is seen from the masculine point of view, is, in point of fact, a nasty person. The most damaging thing that a movie can do with a self-centered character is to ignore the fact that the character is self-centered in the first place. When faced with his hypocrisy, Toto always responds by either lying, claiming that he did it out of love, or referring to the desperation that was prompted by their financial situation. Therefore, when he assists and abets academic dishonesty, actively blackmails students, and solicits money based on lies, he feels very little to no regret until he is finally held accountable for them. In other words, he does not feel remorse until he is eventually held accountable for them. Toto has a greater sense of self-assurance as a direct result of his activities, which are perceived as being smooth and hip.

However, the movie gives Candy very little to none of the nobility or respect she deserves when she engages in sexual labor for the purpose of making money. It’s almost as if the movie considers her to be the more self-centered character since she can’t accept the film’s premise that sex work, in all of its guises, is a lower form of labor than “real” capitalist labor. Barretto turns in an excellent performance, and she unquestionably possesses the skills necessary to create a nuanced portrayal of a sex worker who does not see herself as a victim. It is a great tragedy that she was not cast in the role.

The conclusion puts an exclamation point on this storytelling disaster by revealing the obvious fact that Toto and Candy should not have been together in the first place. Toto, who was laid off from his previous job and is now working as a delivery rider, appears to be comfortable and is delighted to romanticize the idea that life will treat him well as long as he earns money in an honorable manner.

And what about Candy? If I had to guess, I’d say that Barretto is perpetually unhappy because she isn’t making money in the most efficient way. She is caught in a never-ending cycle, reiterating over and over that the option to engage in sexual labor is entirely her own. If this were a better movie, perhaps it would have paid attention to her the first time she said something.

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