Can We Still Be Friends? is Not The Movie Its Title Makes It Out To Be

TL;DR: The title may be misleading, but this is a charming romantic comedy honed in on the specific struggles of long-term relationship.

It really doesn’t.

This movie doesn’t tackle the hotly debated question in its title. Rather, it uses that idea to examine a relationship at a crossroads.

Digs & Sam, both played by Gerald Anderson & Arci Muñoz respectively, have been together for eight years, living in a condo unit together both of them are still paying for. Sam is an ambitious, hardworking creative getting passed over for promotions. She mostly takes care of her boyfriend Digs, an illustrator who often freelances. He’s a charming, irresponsible slacker who doesn’t even clean up their condo. Sam wants Digs to be more responsible by doing his fair share of house work, help her pay the bills more often, go on exciting dates, propose to her, & refill empty pitchers with water while Digs wants to maintain their seemingly idyllic life. They both love each other, as their playful banter & Digs’ ability to defuse the simmering tension between them shows, but they are reaching a breaking point. Both of them finally snap & decide to end their relationship.

Digs is supposed to stay at his friend’s house, but when Sam offered him to stay in the condo out of courtesy – since they both own the condo unit – he took her up on her offer. Not only that, both of them decided they should be friends, creating one of the most awkward living situations in Filipino cinema.

And this movie milks the awkwardness for every last drop. Both of them try their best to be friendly with each other, even if the wounds from their break up are still fresh. It doesn’t help that Sam clearly loves Digs but can’t put up with his immaturity, while Digs is hoping for an easy reconciliation. It’s how they end up ogling at each other when working out at their condo & going on awkward Tinder dates.

The movie might sound farcical, but it’s the exact opposite. It’s a grounded tale that asks what happens when one person in a relationship changes & one doesn’t, whether we can be patient enough to wait for our partner to overcome his/her shortcomings & if love is enough to solve these issues. This is one of Star Cinema’s toned down efforts. It is more attuned to the specifics of their relationship, where every interaction is the result of the years they’ve been together with all of the baggage it carries. This means it could focus on the messy emotions onscreen.

In fact, this feels more like a Prime Cruz movie with a Star Cinema budget. There’s the heavy focus on urban life, cramped living spaces & the alienation that’s packaged with the former – this time heightened by an ineffectual partner & the subsequent breakup – scored with a spare synth reminiscent of BP Valenzuela – who scored Cruz’s debut Sleepless – that’s atypical of Star Cinema. His movies are always gorgeous & emphasize the spaces between the characters & the environment, but it gets a step up with his move to a major studio, making it his sleekest film visually. One of the best scenes in the movie highlight these qualities, where Sam is suddenly a part of marriage proposal & she tries to dance away her loneliness.

And he’s blessed with actors who can pull off the material with ease. Gerald Anderson has the boy-next-door charm that can make the audience overlook Digs’ flaws, but he’s capable of carrying a dramatic scene when needed. Arci Muñoz has the meatier role & she’s completely astounding in it. She’s captures the confidence, longing & sadness of her character without betraying what makes it tick, & can make you laugh with a simple facial expression. And the chemistry they have together can warm up the coldest of hearts, which the movie exploits, since they don’t spend majority of the movie as a couple. It makes us want to root for them even more.

But it’s not without its hiccups. It has the typical third act problems Star Cinemas usually have when its movies are forced to come up with a happy ending. This movie mostly avoids these flaws without betraying the movie’s themes by sticking its focus on the characters, yet it’s still rushed, skipping a few beats in order to get them back together.

However, it doesn’t tarnish the movie at all. It’s a small flaw in one of the best movies released by Star Cinema in recent years, & another excellent movie from Prime Cruz. It may not answer whether exes can be friends, but it takes something relatable & cringy & uses it as a springboard for something specific & real, with a more than capable couple at the center. It’s not the movie we expected, but it is better for it.

A Silent Voice Probes the Effects of Teenage Bullying Briskly with Mixed Results

TL;DR: While it may provide insightful commentary on the effects of teenage bullying, the amount of plot it has to unspool somewhat undercuts its intentions.

The latest anime movie to reach Philippine shores isn’t the straightforward romantic melodrama its local poster suggests. This is a movie attuned to the complexities of teenage friendships, the effects of bullying, & the struggles of the hearing impaired. It may not be the adorable tearjerker people are expecting, but it is a more rewarding watch.

Adapted from an award-winning manga, it tells the story of Shoya Ishida, a young boy who bullied Shoko Nishimiya, a deaf girl who just transferred into their school, alongside his friends to various degrees when he was in elementary. But when he ended up ratting out his behavior towards his friends, he becomes ostracized & bullied as well. Now that he’s in high school, he’s still an outcast. The pain & loneliness he feels causes him to make amends to his mother he troubled her when he was a kid & to apologize to Shoko before he commits suicide. However, when his plan fell apart, he decides to befriend her anyway, causing the people around Shoya & Shoko to explore what happened in the past in order to move forward.

The movie deals with heavy themes, but it’s neither soapy nor miserablist in the slightest. It’s a languid, tranquil movie intent on capturing the smallest details to create the biggest emotional impact; often using unbalanced compositions to emphasize the character’s isolation from his/her environment. Since this is made by Kyoto Animation, this is brought to life with beautiful, realistic backgrounds full of bright colors. The characters are animated with less realism, opting to emphasize their emotions. Whenever these characters smile, cry or just feel something, you can watch every movement of their face & body. Their eyes widen with glee, their bodies tremble when they are shaken & you can even see their teardrops falling from their eyes in such ridiculous detail.There are also moments of humor sprinkled throughout the movie; one of which is a smash cut that revolves around an innocuous reveal. Everything happens to try exploring its characters’ humanity while trying to dissect the effects of bullying Shoko, from Shoko & her family, the instigators, & those who stood by as it happened.

“Try” is the operative word there, because while it is sincere in its aims, adapting the whole story into a movie is not a good idea. It is crammed with so much plot that the movie is forced to either introduce it without giving those who have read the manga to care, rush these developments, or abruptly end it for the next one; which is counter-intuitive to its slow pacing. It also forces the movie to focus mostly on Shoya, nearly turning it into a movie about a guy redeeming for his previous sins, which gives us less time to spend on everyone, especially the deaf girl at the center of the story. The movie is aware that Shoyo might be trying to flatter himself, but it still doesn’t change the fact that the movie’s approach undercuts a lot of character development. It really would’ve been better as a two-hour anime.

Instead, what we have is a recap movie to a non-existing excellent season of anime. It still works thanks to its insights & attention to detail making sure that every emotional beat lands most of the time, but it’s hard not to think how great it would’ve been if we had been given more time to watch these characters facing up to the choices they’ve made in the past. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that universe, but at least we got a good movie from the manga here.

Feel the Bliss with No Hesitations

 TL;DR: This mindfuck  the director of Heneral Luna is a relentless attack on the entertainment industry & a sympathetic, slightly problematic view of how abuse haunts those who are affected by it.

Jane Ciego (Iza Calzado) is a famous actress working in showbiz since she was a kid with the help of her overbearing stage mother (Shamaine Buencamino). She hopes to finally bag an award in a movie where not only is she the lead actress, but also its producer. While working on set, she is injures due to an accident caused by a faulty rig on set. It leaves her paralyzed from the waist down, forcing her to use a wheel chair. Her husband (TJ Trinidad) decided they would stay at a rest house in order to regain her strength. However, strange things are happening inside the house. She hears voices of people whispering & unnatural noises coming from the walls. It doesn’t help that her husband isn’t allowing her to leave the house or contact anyone else & her nurse Lilibeth (Adrienne Vergara) is a callous woman seemingly motivated to make her life miserable. Slowly, she starts to question the two people taking care of her & her sense of reality.

What unfolds is one of the most controversial Filipino movies released in recent years. It gained notoriety thanks to the Movie & Television Ratings Classification Board (MTRCB) slapping it with an X rating, meaning the movie isn’t allowed to be shown commercially. It gained an R-18 rating after a 2nd review without a need to cut any scenes; which is still harsh seeing as it isn’t as gory or sexually explicit as other movies.

Solely focusing on the brouhaha would be a huge disservice to this outstanding mindfuck from Jerrold Tarog. This is a twisted tale that finds an ingenious way to talk about how the entertainment industry molds women to fit certain roles, exploiting & commodifying them until they’ve been completely hollowed out; how that same machinery negatively affects people outside the industry – especially those who weren’t fated to enter it – & the ways abuse – including rape – haunts those who’ve been inflicted with it. It’s a deeply cynical film focusing on our ability to be egotistical & cruel in an industry that enables & rewards these impulses, but avoids becoming a shallow, mean-spirited diatribe.

It helps that Jerrold Tarog couched this in the realm of psychological thriller – a genre that’s rarely produced in the Philippines anymore – using his signature non-linear narrative. But what he does here is even trickier compared to the rest of his work, since he now has to apply that structure in a story where a character’s sense of reality is dissolving before our eyes, while revealing the stories of people who found themselves in Jane’s orbit for different reasons.

And he pulls it off with aplomb. He still doles out important details whenever they will make the most impact, but when it moves from one character to the another, he uses Jane’ s story as the main anchor holding everything together while. Tarog switches from different scenes with clever match cuts – like someone’s head being bashed with a vase & cutting to a glass containing strawberry juice breaking on the floor – pieces of dialogue, & going back to Jane. It’s an approach that might be confusing, but never infuriating, since he’s not stringing the audience along a sleek, stylish puzzle with nothing on its mind.

It is stylish though, in a way that doesn’t intrude on the movie’s intentions. It’s nothing too crazy, but one where images create a vibe of unease, where bursts of violence can break out any moment. Cinematographer Mackie Galvez keeps his shots close to Iza Calzado’s face, trapping us with her. These scenes are punctuated by moments of brutality, often sexually tinged, where bloodshed is imminent, which will give way to surreal imagery, creating a uncomfortable mix never meant to titillate anyone.

All of this wouldn’t be possible if Tarog hadn’t cast Iza Calzado at the role. She’s the one tying everything together, showing us every facet of her personality during her life before the accident while trying to fight back at her captors. But the standout performance comes from Adrienne Vergara. She can be menacing & childish at the same time, exploring the dark soul of a woman broken down by the film industry & the women surrounding her.

The rest of the cast are stacked too. Audie Gamora is great as a self-absorbed director pursuing his passion project with Jane. Michael de Mesa is conniving as a Boy Abunda analogue feeding the machinery to keep it alive. Self-centered stage mothers don’t get any better with Shamaine Buencamino, which doesn’t even reward her daughter Jane with affection even if she benefits from her daughter’s riches. TJ Trinidad is great as Jane’s husband eager to use her money for his business while treating her badly. Ian Veneracion has fun subverting his reputation by playing a charming asshole who uses his stardom to sleep with other women; even if he’s married.

However, the approach chosen by Jerrold Tarog skirts toward cheapening the experience of rape victims. It doesn’t allow for a nuanced look, especially because of the way the story plays out, & recalls the way pop culture has often used rape as a backstory for villains; even if there is historical precedent for it. The movie does have its sympathies with the victim, which helps a lot taking the edge of it, but it is still a bit questionable.

Even with those problems, this movie is worth watching. It has risked controversy by tackling mature themes & putting it inside a work of genre filmmaking; and it mostly works. It begins with a puzzle, slowly unravelling to reveal its pitch black assault on the entertainment industry while treating those unlucky enough to become its victims with sympathy. We should all be grateful for it.

 

Just The Fucking Worst: 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten Receives an R-18 Rating

Yes, it’s good to remind ourselves of what’s making us happy every now & then, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore horrible shit. So here’s what is hopefully an occasional feature that highlights anything that is just the fucking worst.

The Filipino indie movie 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten, the winner of Best Picture in Cinema One Originals 2016, is released in theaters & more people should watch it while they still can. It’s a provocative, bittersweet coming-of-age tale of first love set during the 90s in a post-eruption Pampanga about Felix, whose ordinary life is rocked with the arrival of Magnus & Maxim, his two new Filipino-American classmates. It is also an exploration of American imperialism in the Philippines, the diaspora caused by Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption, & broken families. It is all of these things, mixed together in a unforgettable brew, without forgetting that the heart of this story is a boy who falls in love with another boy, who may not love him back.

And MTRCB decided that it should get a rating of R-18 in cinemas. You can see the complete rating below, but it contains few spoilers.

It’s an infuraiting, disappointing result struck down by the Movie & Television Review & Classification Board (MTRCB) on Petersen Vargas’ excellent film debut written by Jason Paul Laxamana. In response, Petersen Vargas wrote a long, passionate Twitter thread that is worth reading in full:

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Don’t get me wrong: 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten has acts of sex & violence throughout the movie. But most of its run-time is dedicated to the main characters’ struggles. Of course, when the movie does veer into adult material, it does so with maturity & restraint. There’s not even a trace of full frontal nudity here!

But the main sticking point appears to be the fact that its supposed propagation of murder, which is a flabbergasting read of the movie. Without getting revealing much of the film’s plot, it doesn’t propagate murder. There’s not even a scene here that can top Logan in terms of gratuitous violence, a movie full of blood & gore, including a child named Laura rolls a decapitated head to her captors.

And yet somehow Logan got a rating of R-16, continuing the double standard that acts of brutal violence are more tolerable in our conservative Filipino society compared to any depictions of sex, from the tame to gratuitous, especially if it concerns those in the LGBTQ+ community.

But what’s infuriating about this decision is it severely limits the movie’s audience, and it’s not just because of the rating. R-18 movies are almost non-existent in the Philippines thanks to SM Cinema’s draconian rule of banning R-18 movies in their malls, due to its owners’ insistence of delivering clean entertainment for the whole family. The problem is SM Malls are the largest mall chain in the country, and it has more provincial cinemas compared to its competitors. In a country where the movie-going experience barely exists outside malls, it’s a huge handicap to producers wanting to deliver movies with mature content to a bigger audience. Local producers were less hesitant to make films that might get an R-16 rating & international distributors stopped delivering movies that might get an R-18 rating; except for notable exceptions like the Fifty Shades of Grey & Fifty Shades Darker. It created a cinematic ecosystem where family-friendly entertainment is valued more, which limits the kinds of movies people can watch. It’s a huge problem that the MTRCB made the R-16 rating just so movies containing adult material can get shown to a bigger audience.

Add to the fact that it’s a Filipino indie movie means its survival in theaters will be a steeper uphill climb, making it hard for the movie break out with the right audience.

And queer movies are more prone to receive harsher ratings, which is a huge shame. What Petersen Vargas wrote above making”every single boy whose confusions become their life sentence” less lonely is completely true. Not only that, these stories create diversity not just by representing an oft-maligned members of society, but also in the kinds of stories that can be told.

In the end, the losers here are not just creators who want to make risky, adult fare, but the audience losing out on a chance to watch it. The combination of MTRCB’s harsh, conservative ruling, SM Cinemas’ ban on R-18 movies, & theaters’ continued eagerness to pull out Filipino indie movies ensure that most Filipinos will live only on Hollywood blockbusters, romantic comedies, & the latest movies from Vic Sotto, Vice Ganda, & Mother Lily who excuse their mediocre output by saying it’s great for the whole family. That’s not good for the country’s artistic & cultural growth in the long run.

And that’s just the fucking worst.

Sakaling Hindi Makarating Embraces the Joys of Getting Lost

TL;DR: It’s a lovely ode to wanderlust that allows viewers to take it slow along with the protagonists.

Sakaling Hindi Makarating (In Case They Don’t Arrive) begins with Cielo (Alessandra de Rossi) entering her new apartment. She just returned to the Philippines after breaking off her engagement with her fiance, whom she had a relationship with for 11 years. While trying to figure out what to do with her life, she strikes a friendly relationship with her next-door neighbor Paul (Pepe Herrera), who is smitten with her. Suddenly, she receives postcards from an unknown sender, filled with lovely paintings & romantic, handwritten letters, from a person named ‘M.’ She decides to track down the sender by going on a journey around the Philippines using the postcards as a guide. Through her travels & the people she meets on her journey, her heartbreak is slowly healed as she looks for the letter writer.

What follows is a tribute to getting lost in wanderlust. Even the movie’s structure follows suit. While there’s a clear emotional arc for Cielo, the movie’s plotting is relaxed & shaggy, allowing for small moments where we see Cielo watching colorful vintas by the sea or Paul teaching his students.

More importantly, it avoids the pitfalls of stories about travelers trying to better themselves. Cielo soaks up as much as she can from the places she visits & interacts with the locals normally. While she does learn a few things from her travels, she doesn’t treat people as mere tools for self-improvement, doesn’t portray the places she visits as “exotic” & present it as insight. To be fair, it’s easier to do this when your main character is trying to find the mysterious letter writer, instead of happiness, in her own country but it could’ve slid into these hacky, dehumanizing tropes if it wanted to.

It’s also littered with great performances from the cast. Alessandra de Rossi plays Cielo as a woman who rediscovers the wonders of her own country & slowly coming out of her funk without losing her inner strength. Pepe Herrera is charming as a lovelorn man who doesn’t know how to show his affections towards her. JC Santos is the right mix of endearing & cocky as a man who falls for Cielo during her travels who already knows what he wants in his life. And then there’s Teri Malvar, playing a young girl whose life collides with Cielo in surprising ways, adds another heartbreaking performance in her already jam-packed resume.

All of this amounts to a movie that speaks to the joys of getting lost. Sakaling Hindi Makarating understands there’s no need to rush. No matter what our problems are, we could take things slowly & savor the little moments we would’ve missed if we were in a hurry. We’ll all get where we need to be someday, one step at a time.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week?: I’m Drunk, I Love You & The Success of #SaveIDILY

With Leila de Lima’s questionable arrest & news outlets like CNN, New York Times, & The Guardian blocked from accessing a White House press briefing, it hasn’t been a great week. But that shouldn’t stop me from looking at the bright side, because it is the only way to keep me sane. Inspired by NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, let’s take a look at what’s making me happy this week.

I can say without any doubt that Filipino independent cinema has made a space for itself in our cinematic ecosystem.

This is all thanks to Filipino indies gaining critical acclaim here & abroad, multiple film festivals acting as grant-giving bodies for many independent filmmakers which are shown in certain malls in the country, & a small but growing audience actively seeking them, helping create positive word-of-mouth. Pop-up screenings, legal streaming sites like iflix & Hooq, & alternative venues like Cinema ’76 Film Society & cinematheques by the Film Development Council of the Philipines, a government agency focused on the growth & propagation of Filipino cinema, continue to show the breadth of our indie scene. Few independent movies even become influential blockbuster hits like Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros), Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank), That Thing Called Tadhana (That Thing Called Fate) – which kickstarted the whole hugot & heartbreak trend – & Heneral Luna. Mainstream Filipino studios are even hiring indie directors for their movie projects. Even with all the controversy that erupted in Metro Manila Film Festival 2016, majority of the films in the lineup were independently produced.

We even had two of Lav Diaz’s movies secure distribution in our malls thanks to Star Cinema, one of which is a treatise on the Filipino psyche – mixing Filipino myths, history, & Jose Rizal’s literature – done in his usual slow, spare style of filmmaking that runs for 8 hours & 5 minutes long with majority of its screenings selling out. That is something you don’t see everyday.

Yet that space is always threatened.

Just look at what happened with I’m Drunk, I Love You. It was screened in more than 60 cinemas nationwide on its first day. By the end of the first week, it was down to 10 theaters in the whole country.

To be honest, this movie is lucky compared to the others. Indies would be lucky to survive in a single theater for a week. Malls are eager to remove them from their lineup that if they don’t earn enough money, they will not hesitate to remove it on its second day; making it nearly impossible to create word-of-mouth. While we do have alternative venues for indies, they’re not as widespread or easily accessible for everyone, especially if you live outside Metro Manila. And not all campaigns to stop indie movies from being pulled out of theaters have worked out. Just look at #SavePatintero & #SaveSBQ.

But it was frustrating to see this happen to I’m Drunk I Love You. It also had the potential to break out in to the mainstream, because it was a story about a woman forced to deal with her feelings for her best friend now that they’re about to graduate. It’s a great movie that captures the vulnerability in its title with the help of an outstanding performance from Maja Salvador & an amazing soundtrack. It was even pulled out of malls where it was performing decently in malls like Glorietta, which is probably caused by old-fashioned practices. Positive raves from critics & audiences are starting to pour in from social media, which can help lure people into watching it.

Thus #SaveIDILY was born. Outrage & disappointment poured throughout social media from people hoping to see the film, people who want it to survive a little longer, & the stars of the movie themselves.

And that gambit worked. Last Friday, on its tenth day in theaters, the movie was screening on more than 70 cinemas & continued to have sold-out screenings throughout the weekend.

This was a step in the right direction. People made their voices were heard & rallied around a small-scale Pinoy indie, proving detractors wrong about its marketability & a slap in the face of mall owners & mainstream producers who continue to undermine its existence. Every success emboldens indie producers to bring their work to a bigger audience, which diversifies the kind of movies shown in our theaters. That’s how we got at this point: the commercial & critical successes of Pinoy indie movies planted a seed that continues to bloom to this day. That’s not even counting the controversies like how Honor Thy Father’s disqualification for Best Picture on MMFF 2015 was part of the reason we got a reformed yet still contentious Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) last year.

There are still lots of systemic problems needed to be solved in order for Pinoy indie movies to continue to flourish & the theaters showing I’m Drunk, I Love You just dropped to 20 cinemas thanks to Logan. But for now, let’s savor the fact that a well-deserved indie movie got to stay a little bit longer in theaters & continue to grow its audience. So what if it lost a lot of theaters? We can just bring it back! We’ve done it before & we can do it again.

Vince & Kath & James is Full of Formulaic Pleasures & Pitfalls

TL;DR: Vince and Kath and James is a sweet & fizzy confection from Star Cinema that almost rises above its predictability.

This article contains slight spoilers to Vince & Kath & James. It reveals the movie’s first half, but it doesn’t discuss the movie’s second half.

People often complain about formulaic, cliched movies, and with good reason. These movies are lazy, soulless, cynical cash grabs aimed at attracting the biggest audience possible without giving them something of value. Or at least a different experience.

Star Cinema’s romantic movies are often relegated to this category, because majority of their movies are manufactured from a very rigid template. A heterosexual love team, either a new or established pairing, who slowly fall in love, fall apart during the third act, & reunite just in time for the ending. The protagonists have best friends whose purpose is to advise them in their problems. Moments of kilig are scattered throughout the movie, whether if it’s done naturally or forced. Cornball lines are delivered that are written to be quotable. Don’t forget that it should always have a theme song. The studio may be trying to add other elements like hugot, family drama, & LGBTs into the mix so it won’t get stale, but they’ve never strayed away from their established formula.

But predictability does have its advantages. Formulas can help writers provide a solid foundation to their stories. And watching something predictable is akin toeating your favorite comfort food: It triggers your pleasure centers & you know exactly what you’ll get.

Comfort food is exactly what Vince & Kath & James aims to be and it mostly succeeds, which is a miracle, considering this is a Star Cinema romantic comedy adapted from an online series presented as a series of text messages, which itself is a version of Cyrano de Bergerac updated for millenials. This movie is very derivative in its core, yet it manages to rise above it.

It does this by fleshing out its characters & ensures that the whole Cyrano act is tied into something more than just a romantic farce. Vince (Joshua Garcia) has a crush on Kath (Julia Barretto) for a while, but he hasn’t had the guts to tell her. The only thing he does is constantly tease her, which she finds annoying, & write an anonymous blog dedicated to her where he writes pithy hugot lines. He lives with his cousin James (Ronnie Alonte), one of the best varsity players in their campus, because due to a complicated past related to his mother. James often depends on Vince to save from trouble, whether cozying up to James’ parents or making up excuses for James’ behavior or completely taking the blame for his problems. When Kath wins Miss Engineering, James sets his eyes on her & asks for Vince’s help to talk to her through text as a secret admirer, without knowing Vince’s feelings for her. Vince reluctantly agrees & soon finds himself courting the woman of his dreams for his cousin.

But Kath has her own set of problems. She’s a boyish student working on her uncle’s auto repair shop as a mechanic in order to provide for her mother & brother’s needs after her father left them for another woman. Her mother is still heartbroken about it. She also has a crush on James, but she hasn’t had the guts to tell him. When she gets these text messages, she is intrigued & she suddenly finds herself falling for her secret admirer. When she finds out it’s supposedly Vince texting him, she presents herself more as the woman who won Miss Engineering, instead of who she really is.

This setup works very well for the movie’s favor for many reasons. Kath’s personal life & act of deceit turns her more into an actual human being, instead of a woman who’s just pursued by two men. It gives her something to do besides being lied to. Vince’s complicated relationship with James & his family shows his behavior of staying behind the background & hiding his true self isn’t just an endearing quirk, it’s a way of life forced by the people around him & his insecurities.

Thankfully, a deeper dive to its characters doesn’t make for a serious movie; this is still a Star Cinema rom-com after all. The movie still maintains a bubbly vibe that’s very contagious. It captures the feeling of falling in love for the first time, with all the innocence, naivete & sweetness that comes along with it, updated for the millenial era. The characters may be in college, but it’s also endearing to see a group of people who are almost adults go through an adolescent version of love. Text messages & conversations through chat are displayed as though it were written in chalk, while our protagonists smile & let the kilig wash over them. No other scene epitomizes this more than a montage of Vince, posing as James, texting cheesy one-liners with Kath & bonding over Star Cinema’s Got 2 Believe to the tune of O Pag-ibig; a catchy, upbeat ode to the wonders of love.

All of these improvements would’ve been for nothing if not for the almost stellar trio. Ronnie Alonte is the weak link of the bunch, using his charisma to make up for his stiff & unnatural acting. It’s as if he was a robot built as the latest heartthrob by Star Cinema programmed to mimic an irresponsible playboy & failing completely. Julia Barretto is great as Kath, who delivers a lively performance that matches the movie’s tone. But Joshua Garcia is the obvious standout with his breakthrough performance. He’s completely charming as a Vince, playing the shy boy-next-door with ease & he’s able to give weight to his dramatic scenes. When Julia Barretto & Joshua Garcia are both onscreen, they have the kind of chemistry that can warm the coldest of hearts. It’s youthful love at its finest.

However, its insistence on following its formula is its biggest failing. It starts to fall apart in the third act, when it rushes towards its inevitable happy ending. While it does attempt to continue its nuanced take on such a tired premise, there’s a lack of space for these scenes to breathe. And the instigating incident that begins the movie’s third act is jarring & offensive for something this light.

Because in the end, formulas are only guides for filmmakers to generate stories, & it’s up to them to create something special out of it. Vince and Kath and James almost achieves this feat, but falls short on that. Disappointing as it may be, that doesn’t detract from its charms. It’s like eating a bowl of hot champorado on a cold, rainy day. It’s a simple, foolproof way to warm you up on the inside.