Movie Review: Stranded is At Its Best When It’s Adrift

TL;DR: This enjoyable romantic comedy pulls off its idiosyncratic take on the genre when it takes it slow.

Another week, another Regal Entertainment film that’s ignored by majority of the public. This time it’s the enjoyable, fascinating Stranded, an unconventional rom-com that takes the formula to surprising ends.

It begins like any other day. Just like ordinary Filipinos with a job, Julia & Spencer are working hard despite warnings of a strong typhoon headed towards Metro Manila. Julia (Jessy Mendiola) is an ambitious IT employee cleaning up their company’s e-commerce website after someone vandalized it, surrounded by people rushing to go home. Spencer (Arjo Atayde) is a slacker with no direction in life, frantically delivering food for his best friend’s vegan eatery since he didn’t wake up on time. His final delivery lands him in a huge warehouse Julia works in. Their initial interactions are tense – clearly caused by the typhoon & work-related stress – but they will have plenty of time to know each other. Thinking no one else is inside the warehouse, the security guards locked them inside. With the rising floods making it impossible to rescue them, they are stuck together & forced to face their inner struggles. Sparks ensue.

It’s the kind of low-key premise that needs to have a central relationship that develops naturally, but the script by Easy Ferrer & Jeps Gallon scurries their connection together without making it credible. While the movie is aware of their issues & how they might bring the best out of each other, it doesn’t do enough legwork to make it believable nor give them & the audience enough time to reflect on their relationship. It seems to think that having cutesy, kilig scenes like Julia admiring Spencer’s abs while he changes his shirt are enough to build a lasting impression between them. It’s still entertaining since it knows how to execute those rom-com tropes very well & both Arjo Atayde & Jessy Mendiola are great together.

But then the movie takes a surprising turn in the second half, revealing itself to be a story of two people who pushed each other to find themselves without meaning to. It’s an interesting idea that expands the movie outside its genre, which has been a trend this year. Even if she didn’t write the script, this fits perfectly in Ice Idanan’s wheelhouse. Her feature-length debut was Sakaling Hindi Makarating (In Case They Don’t Arrive), which spun multiple tales of self-discovery while doubling as a gorgeous travelogue of the Philippines.

It takes a slower, more introspective approach than what came before, showing us how they’re going to handle the next part of their lives. However, it’s still plagued with the same narrative shortcuts that affected the first half – even if there’s less of it this time around – which caused it to skim over Julia & Spencer’s unchecked privilege; an issue Sakaling Hindi Makarating managed to handle so well. It does feel like these two halves are held together tenuously, since the film didn’t do a great job of laying the groundwork for their relationship. Still, Jessy Mendiola & Arjo Atayde are excellent in conveying their individual trajectories & do a lot to cover for the script’s flaws. The film also makes up for it with a clever ending that ties everything neatly while leaving Julia & Spencer with room to grow. It may be imperfect, but Stranded’s idiosyncrasies & its central couple are worth getting stuck with.

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.