REVIEW: Joshua grips with acting award-worthy portrayal of struggling kid pursuing his dreams in MMK “Notebook”

No matter the cruelty, harshness, or difficulty life may bring, fighting and standing up for our dreams make it worth living. Yet, fulfilling your dreams indeed makes life complete and rewarding, even when rogue waves hit you endlessly, as told in Maalaala Mo Kaya’s December 12 episode, “Notebook.”

Such perseverance and courage are clearly embodied in the life of Arnel "Maro" Amaro (Joshua Garcia), who endured the worst life can offer—from a life threatening disease to abuse and maltreatment of relatives—just to achieve his long held dream of finishing school, among other aspirations he drew in a “vision board” he kept since he was a child. These include becoming a priest, and enjoying his favorite dishes spaghetti and fried chicken, food his family could not afford due to their abject poverty as ordinary fisherfolk.

While there may be changes in his goals as he grew up, he remained dead-set on his objective, which was to enter and finish college at the time he was a teenager and in his final year of high school. While he would find solace and support in his Tatay Layot (Nonie Buencamino), Maro would get discouraged by his Nanay Daylyn’s (Shamaine Buencamino) skepticism and realism in dealing with their plight. She would constantly nag him in finding a job to help in making both ends meet for their family.


While he was finishing high school, Maro worked as a house helper for his Lola Mating (Dexter Doria), who was utterly vicious and condescending towards him, in exchange for her shouldering his schooling. But her tormenting treatment led Maro to contract tuberculosis due to difficult housework given him. The poor kid endured this just to earn his high school diploma.

When he returned to their home, Maro’s tuberculosis worsened, forcing him to rest for six months. But despite this, he would ask his schoolmates to let him borrow their notes so he could still continue studying while he was bedridden. And this angered Tatay Layot, who admonished him for not thinking about his health and always drain himself in concentrating on his studies. But as Maro dashed out to the seashore in frustration, Tatay Layot then knew what this dream meant for his son as he comforted him, and gave his wholehearted support to him.


Eventually, Maro recovered fully from tuberculosis and finally finished high school. As he graduated, Tatay Layot told him the good news that Maro’s uncle, a seaman, was willing to pay for his college education in a maritime institute. This delighted Maro as this would make him achieve his long desired dream of entering and finishing college. But then, as he studied, he encountered the same ruthlessness he experienced with his Lola Mating with his uncle’s wife, who would even accuse him of stealing items and forcing him to sleep in a filthy house bodega.

This discouraged Maro, and even with Tatay Layot urging him to keep on fighting to achieve his dreams, he would give up amid the incessant abuse and ill-treatment from his aunt, and leave his “vision board” behind. He would then wander around the streets to find work, and without his parents’ knowledge would land odd jobs—from being a barker to a dishwasher/server in a mall restaurant.  He would then find a job as a janitor at the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde in Manila. Surprising his parents with gifts as he came back for a visit, including a motor engine his father can use for his boat, Maro confessed that he did not continue his college studies and instead focused on working to earn for them. While his father was happy with his selflessness, Tatay Layot still counseled Maro to still pursue his dreams no matter what, saying he knows his son very well.

As a janitor in the College of St. Benilde, he was always seen peeking in the window of classrooms just to grasp the lessons being given. And when he stumbled upon an envelope containing a large amount of cash inside the school comfort room, Maro would return it to its owner, impressing school officials. Because of his honesty, Maro was given the chance to apply for the school’s Blessed Arnould Study Assistance Scholarship Program. He would clinch the scholarship, and complete a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the College of St. Benilde.

Maro would then ask his parents out one day, without telling them where they were going. After he excused himself to dress up for their day out, Maro would surprise them wearing his graduation toga, telling his parents that he is set to graduate with a Business Administration degree. This brought them to tears, as Maro indeed fulfilled his long held dream of finishing college despite the worst ordeals anyone can face in achieving it.


With its wonderfully told, inspiring tale, MMK “Notebook” also puts on spotlight its intricately detailed and superbly made narrative and production. Brilliant director Nuel C. Naval again brought the best out of the cast, with characterizations well developed and presented, making viewers relate and sympathize with the real-life characters.

First of all, with quarantine protocols prohibiting children out of their homes, MMK “Notebook” achieved a well-executed story transition without having to cast a child as a young Maro, which was portrayed merely as a voice over played by Yñigo Delen, with just animations displayed depicting Maro’s early life.

With a masterfully written script by Jaymar S. Castro under the auspices of head writer Arah Jell G. Badayos, we could really grasp the struggles Maro faced, and commiserate with him as he strived hard to reach his dreams, even with the many “holes” in life he encountered.  Joy C. Buenaventura’s editing was likewise astounding, as it made the phases in Maro’s life very much fathomable and welcoming to everyone’s hearts.

But nothing could top the cast’s breathtaking performances that made the episode very memorable, stunning, and real. Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino extended their luminous stature in the acting craft with their genuine, authentic portrayals, displaying the kind of naturalness that is spine-tingling. It’s just like seeing their characterizations in everyday people we encounter, with reactions so identifiable to anyone.

And of course, Joshua Garcia gave his thespic best, deeply internalizing the pain and suffering his character endured while giving out an intense, believable, affectual performance that is acting award-worthy. Truly, his acting skills are now at par with the country’s best, despite his age, and deserves accolades of being heralded as this generation’s best actor. 

Netizens were likewise astonished.