Movie Review: JoshLia & Kris Aquino Liven Up I Love You, Hater’s Gimmicks

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.

Movie Review: Ang Pambansang Third Wheel Charges Forward With Charm But Doesn’t Know When to Stop

TL;DR: Ang Pambansang Third Wheel (The National Third Wheel) charges forward with charm & energy, but that proves to be its greatest strength & weakness.

Trina (Yassi Pressman) has never had it easy when it comes to love. She’s the eternal third wheel; cheated on by men multiple times & constantly surrounded by her friends who have their own romantic relationships, as if rubbing her singlehood in her face. She finds hope when she meets the handsome Neo (Sam Milby), an aspiring applicant in the marketing agency she works for. She’s immediately smitten to his charms, but they don’t get along easily due to her stubborn nature & her bitter view of relationships. Once she starts to open up, they become a couple; with Trina celebrating that she’s finally stopped being the third wheel. That celebration is short-lived when Neo reveals that he has a son Murphy (Alonzo Muhlach) from his ex-girlfriend Monica (Sam Pinto). At first, she’s mad that Neo didn’t reveal he has a son & scared at the prospect of becoming a stepmom, but once she decides to continue dating Neo, she finds herself trying to adapt to Neo’s complicated family arrangement.

What makes Ang Pambansang Third Wheel (The National Third Wheel) notable is its pacing. It zips by with the help of Trina’s narration; allowing her to comment about the events unfolding in her life, & at times, cut away to her fervent imagination. It makes for a bouncy, energetic movie that gives life to well-worn tropes, & pushes the movie towards more interesting material; exploring the various ways one can be a third wheel & the different dynamics of a separated family. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know when to stop. It’s apparent in the latter half, where it continues to push forward without giving it time to breathe. While it makes a bit of thematic sense & it never forces its characters to act unnaturally, it feels like the movie contorted itself towards its inevitable conclusion.

Thankfully, the cast keeps it from spinning out of control. This is a total showcase for Yassi Pressman, whose bubbly energy & prickly nature doesn’t belie how stranded she is when trying to ingratiate to Neo’s family. Sam Milby isn’t just here to display his charm & his beautifully sculpted abs either. He gets to shine as a man trying to atone for his past mistakes, but finds himself stuck between two priorities. Sam Pinto isn’t painted as Neo’s spurned, vengeful ex, but as a smart, responsible single mother who finally gets a shot at achieving her dreams. And while Al Tantay gets an undercooked subplot, he’s a warm presence as Trina’s father, & their paternal pairing is the best relationship in the movie. It’s not a slight against the movie nor its charming leads, but their loving, supportive relationship is endearing & provides the movie a fascinating way to view Trina’s circumstances.; especially when it leans into this by the end. This would’ve helped it resonate more, but Ang Pambansang Third Wheel has moved so fast at that point that it ends up as a fizzy confection with fascinating layers, never coalescing into a satisfying whole.

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