If spoiled brats become spoiled from too much love in real life, it’s the exact opposite at the movies. They are damn near unwatchable even in their most passive portrayals and very few of the Veruca Salts and Junior Healys of the world waste time with passivity. But Ilo Ilo bears witness to the emotional emergence of a spoiled brat, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler), who has only ever cared about two things in his life to this point, his grandfather and his Tamagochi. After exasperating his mother almost to the breaking point, the Lim family hires a Filipino nanny, Theresa (Angeli Bayani), to shoulder the load of selfishness and troublemaking that is weighing down the already stressed out family.
Theresa has taken the job in Singapore to send money back to her family in Ilo Ilo, a province in the Philippines, but runs head first into the reinforced wall of Jiale’s stubbornness and resentment at having to be handled by a stranger. The film is set during the Asian financial crisis in the late 90s, and the fear and helplessness that Jiale’s parents face as their lives shift under foot is familiar but takes away from the more interesting story of how Jiale softens in a particular way to the undeserved support Theresa provides his coming of age. Watching his face process these feelings makes you think that Koh is either a great actor for his age, or that he’s spoiled brat in real life. Either way, he’s a standout.