TL;DR: Never Not Love You is a beautiful, grounded examination on how hard it is to choose between love & career, with excellent performances from James Reid & Nadine Lustre.
Countless movies have been made about the modern dilemma of choosing between love & career, yet only few of them feel as bracing or as heartbreaking as Never Not Love You. It arrives at a time where Filipinos are more receptive to emotionally realistic romance movies, & Antoinette Jadaone – who’s one of the key people who this style more palatable to audiences – delivers her most mature movie yet, backed up by one of the most popular love teams in the Philippines & real-life couple James Reid & Nadine Lustre.
The duo play Joanne & Gio, a couple who jumps somewhat recklessly into a loving relationship. Joanne is an ambitious marketing assistant who left the province for Makati City, dreaming of ascending the corporate ladder & making her parents proud. She meets Gio, a freelance artist passionate with tattoos known for his playboy streak, when he sold her a pack of stickers. It’s very clear that Gio fell hard for Joanne the moment he saw her, & since he’s the kind of person who chooses to pursue what makes him happy, he starts courting her unofficially. She tries her best to resist his charms due to his reputation, but soon they become so close they start living together; it’s fine if an unwed couple cohabitate, because c’mon guys, it’s 2018.
Here is where JaDine – the nickname for the duo – continues to prove why they are a huge Filipino phenomenon. It’s easy to root for them, since they’re just charming & charismatic as a couple. But this is a more intimate romance compared to their previous work – as much as you can be intimate in a PG-rated – that’s complemented by their childlike intensity. You can see it in how Mycko David & Carlos Mauricio shoot the movie, mostly with close-ups & handheld shots while Gio & Joanne are often bathe in bright, neon colors. Or how the wide shots capture the endless possibilities in front of them. It produces some of the most gorgeous visuals they’ve ever done, turning Makati & Zambales into a rural & urban sandbox they can freely explore. The most outstanding aspect though, is Jadaone’s rich, economical writing, as she explores their dynamic & following it thoroughly as it flourishes, while setting up possible roadblocks in their future without dragging the whole movie into a slog.
And trouble does arrive for the couple. When Gio’s father stops financially supporting him, he starts lashing out at everyone, including Joanne. He can’t live on the few, sporadic jobs alone, he doesn’t want Joanne to support him, nor does he want to work in a corporate environment for fear of losing the freedom to do what he wants. When his friend reveals that he received a job offer from one of his clients to work for their company in London with a huge salary, Joanne asks him why he didn’t take it. Leaving her behind isn’t an option for him, since he wants to have a future with her together. He asks her to go to London with him, but she doesn’t want to since she’s already up for a promotion to assistant brand manager. It causes a big fight, but in the end they both decided that moving to London is the best option for them.
That’s just the beginning of the hardships their relationship will face, & Jadaone details every facet of their journey. Gio & Joanne are clearly in a loving, supportive relationship, but they’re often at each other’s throats due to their neuroses, insecurities, & social backgrounds. Jadaone is trying to reveal something truthful & grounded without wrapping it around a unique hook – which isn’t a bad thing, considering she made some of her best work under that mode – & she mostly succeeds, revealing how frustrating it is to bridge the gap between their love for each other & what they want to achieve in life, while commenting about class & even race; even if the latter isn’t as subtle as it should be. (You can argue that putting JaDine in a serious romantic drama that’s also shot in London is a hook in itself, but I digress.)
It’s during this half of the movie where James Reid & Nadine Lustre clearly step up. James Reid is the obvious standout as the impulsive & temperamental Gio, whose intensity & devil-may-care attitude brings out the best & worst in him. Jadaone is careful not to write him as an awful jerk, but he could still be detestable in the wrong hands. Thankfully, James Reid uses the charismatic bad boy image he’s cultivated over the years to show the flawed, well-intentioned side underneath his cocky demeanor, & watching him grow emotionally over the course of the movie is engrossing to watch. That doesn’t mean Nadine Lustre is slacking off on the sidelines. Joanne is pragmatic & ambitious, & you can see Lustre carefully navigating their tricky relationship, as she moves from supporting Gio’s dreams & begrudging how further she is from achieving hers, with her resentment slowly simmer, until it completely boils over. She also has her own journey to take in the movie, & she reveals the subtle changes she made without her calling attention to it. Even the visuals become more sober & less frentic without losing its beauty, as the same visual language used earlier in the movie turned their world smaller, even as they travel & achieve more success.
It’s a complicated position to be put in, yet Never Not Love You never takes the easy way out. While the events leading up to its conclusion could’ve been tighter, it takes a more realistic stance. Being in a committed relationship is a constant act of negotiation, & as long as the love that brought them together doesn’t curdle into bitterness, they’ll survive any obstacle in their way.