TL;DR: I Love You, Hater is a creaky, sweaty, but sweet romantic farce livened up by Joshua Garcia, Julia Barretto & Kris Aquino.
Fittingly for a sweet romantic farce, I Love You, Hater upholds truth & authenticity as the basis of one’s character as it comments on how these values are blurred in the modern world, which makes it ironic that it’s Star Cinema’s latest romantic comedy. The studio’s light, glossy offerings are enjoyable & primed to deliver the kilig audiences crave, but they’re often formulaic to a fault & the level of artifice surrounding these films turn them into mechanical & soulless products that makes it hard for me to fully embrace. While I Love You, Hater doesn’t avoid this problem completely, it delivers a fun film that gives everything audiences expect, while providing more depth that manages to pierce through the artifice.
Just like most farces, it begins with a couple of lies. Joko (Joshua Garcia) was tricked by an illegal recruiter who promised him a high-paying job in New York, but ditched him with his money in tow. He doesn’t want to go home empty-handed, especially since they need to pay off their huge debt, so he decides to stay in Metro Manila to work on a couple of odd jobs, stay in the apartment where his gay cousin & his boyfriend live, & pretend that he’s actually in New York. As the hidden, illegitimate daughter of a reputable lawyer, Zoey’s existence is a lie. Played by Julia Barretto, she is a smart, ambitious woman who pines for his father’s affections, fueled with the desire to achieve something huge for herself.
Both of them get a chance to uplift themselves when Sasha Imperial (Kris Aquino), a famous social media mogul who inspires others to live out their best selves while advertising products to her audience heavily inspired by the real Kris Aquino, needs a new assistant. Zoey is a huge fan of Sasha, & she quickly seizes on the opportunity to apply for her dream job. Joko was applying for a different job opening when he unwittingly ends up getting the job as Sasha’s assistant due to his knowledge of graphic design. When this news reaches Zoey, she protests since she thinks she’s more capable than him at the job & he’s not part of Sasha’s core demographic: women & gays. Not wanting to miss out on a high-paying job with numerous benefits & allowances, Joko lies & tells everyone that he’s actually gay. Faced with two highly qualified applicants, Sasha decides that they will both compete for the job. It’ll be hard for him to keep up the ruse, since he’s straight & has fallen in love with Zoey.
That’s a lot of story to get through, & unfortunately the film doesn’t have a tight handle with its plotting or themes. It tries to build a wacky setup for hijinks to ensue, flesh out the main trio, develop Joko & Zoey’s budding romance & explore how truth & lies affect everyone, which is ambitious, but the film suffocates underneath all of this weight. The plotting is creaky, forced & needlessly complicated at times, which is a consequence of its convoluted setup. This is more apparent in the first half, where the characters are pushed into ridiculous scenarios & it never feels natural; which, as already mentioned, is just ironic. It’s also hard to ignore how sweaty the story moves, which isn’t ideal for a farce.
It also doesn’t spend time fully diving into the nuances of its premise, preferring to just ground it all within the confines of the farce & continuously outlining that honesty is the best policy. It’s understandable, considering how bloated this whole movie is, but there’s so much more that needs to be explored it’s disappointing it took this route. It even affects the film’s final act, as it skips out on something messier in favor of following what the formula dictates.
But damn, if that doesn’t make the movie less fun to watch. While Joko & Zoey are shoved into tired & hacky scenarios, Joshua Garcia & Juila Barretto continue to prove their strengths as a love team by livening up the film with their entertaining performances & irresistible romantic chemistry. It’s more obvious once the film moves away from the farce & allow Zoey & Joko to be themselves. It also sidesteps its problematic premise by deriving humor out of Joko trying his best not to blow his cover & pretending he’s not in love with his rival, instead of emphasizing his “gayness” by vamping & lisping his way to a job; but there is a scene where Joko is harassed in a gay bar that’s played for a quick laugh that’s just awful.
Kris Aquino is unsurprisingly great playing a version of herself, but she’s not just stuck spewing out inspirational quotes & underlining the film’s themes. Sasha has her own arc about her senile father & while it drags the film’s pacing, it grounds Sasha as a character & gives Kris Aquino a dramatic arc to shine. Whatever convoluted mess the film is buried in, I Love You, Hater warmth manages to break through. You just have to put up with its gimmick to get there.