TL;DR: The Girl in the Orange Dress is a fun, propulsive farce that can’t outrun its flawed, hollow nature.
Modest, conservative Anna (Jessy Mendiola) finds herself in a situation unlike anything she’s been before: waking up in a hotel room next to another man. And it’s not just any man. She’s beside Rye del Rosario, a talented, charitable actor with a playboy streak who’s also the biggest celebrity in the Philippines. She’s not exactly sure how she ended up there, but Rye assures her that they bonded deeply the night before & everything that happened was completely consensual.
That’s a questionable premise for a romantic comedy, & it’s even more problematic now that the #MeToo movement is righfully fighting back at the prevalence of sexual assault & sexual harassment in our patriarchal society, & holding those who commit these horrible actions accountable; especially powerful men who have avoided punishment using their money, clout, & privilege. To its credit, The Girl in the Orange Dress does explain what happened & tries to spin a decent modern fairy tale out of it. Cacai (Ria Atayde) is one of Anna’s best friends, who’s been a huge fan of Rye ever since she was young. She gets a chance to meet him when Cacai, Anna, & the rest of their best friends are invited to a birthday party where Rye is expected to arrive. All of them were having fun & getting drunk, & amidst of this Anna & Rye were able to meet & make a connection.
All Anna wants is to go home & forget everything that happened, but it won’t be easy. After someone took a picture of Rye holding hands with Anna as they went up to their hotel room with her face obscured, it caused a massive media circus. Everyone wants to know about the mysterious woman that caught Rye’s heart, so his die-hard fans & the media flocked to the hotel hoping to find out who she is, while the rest of the country are huddled in their TVs & radios so they wouldn’t miss any real-time updates. Rye vows to help Anna escape in any way he can & she needs to leave soon. Her best friends couldn’t locate her, & they’re starting to suspect something weird is going on; which threatens to ruin their friendship if Cacai finds out really happened between Rye & Anna.
This turns The Girl in the Orange Dress from a fluffy romantic comedy to a snappy, cleverly constructed farce. At its best, it’s a funny, propulsive film that gets laughs out of Rye & Anna’s ridiculous situation & seeing how long can hide & scheme their way out of everyone. Making Rye a huge celebrity allows it to poke fun at Filipino celebrity culture, and while it’s not original or deeply insightful, it has a lot of fun highlighting the silliness of celebrity worship without mocking anyone & how powerful the fantasy; it does have an awful rape joke though.
However, the film’s rapid pacing & fluffy tone isn’t enough to cover how slight & empty it is. The film gets swallowed by the mechanics of its farce, treating its characters like pieces on an elaborate board that it can move around for our enjoyment without any care if we have any affections for anyone. It’s too bad, since whatever meaningful emotional arcs doesn’t have time to develop & resonate. Rye & Anna’s romance is unconvincing, since it only tells us what happened the night before from Rye’s point of view and it takes a while for Anna to catch up to what really happened. Not only does it make it harder to understand why she fell for him in the first place, their dynamic is somewhat creepy because Rye holds all the power in their relationship. This makes it harder to root for them whenever their relationship is in danger, especially when it tacks on a cheap conflict like Anna’s dislike for brash playboys like Rye. It doesn’t even tackle or at least acknowledge Cacai’s destructive, entitled behavior throughout the film, shrugging it off as an ordinary celebrity crush even as it threathens to end their meaningful friendships. Jessy Mendiola & Jericho Rosales are appealing as a couple & Ria Atayde captures a specific kind of sad, desperate fanaticism that can be found in these groups, but all of them can’t save a flawed script. The Girl in the Orange Dress can’t rely on charm & breeziness alone, because while the laughs are definitely there, it leaves you feeling like you watched an escapade blown out of proportion for nothing.