Who took a pledge to watch 52 films directed by women this year? This guy! Full-length & short films are eligible as long as a woman directed it; co-directing credits count too. We’re going to jump ahead to the 10th movie on my list, which is Antoinette Jadaone’s Love You to the Stars and Back.
TL;DR: Love You to the Stars and Back is a hilarious romantic comedy with lovable leads at its center, that doesn’t forget the emotional pain at its core & treats cancer with the nuance it deserves.
After the success of Vince & Kath & James, it’s fascinating to see what Julia Barretto & Joshua Garcia’s next movie would look like. Better known as JoshLia, they are one of the best, if not the best, love teams working right now. Both of them are oozing with charisma & romantic spark that can remind you how great it feels to find yourself falling in love in the first place.
Thankfully, their latest movie Love You to the Stars and Back has them working with Antoinette Jadaone – best known for her funny yet tempered romantic comedies, like the influential hugot-inducing That Thing Called Tadhana (That Thing Called Destiny) – and it results in one of the best movies of the year.
Nica is a stubborn teenager who has a close relationship with her deceased mother (Carmina Villaroel). They both share a strong belief in the existence of aliens, & her mother believed that once she passes, she will be taken by extra-terrestrials. Their bond is why she isn’t happy with her father (Ariel Rivera) having a new partner (Maricar Reyes). But when Mika finds out her stepmother is pregnant, she takes it as the final straw. She sneaks out of their house & goes on a road trip to Mt. Milagros so she can be abducted by aliens. While stopping by an open field to pee, she finds out there’s a man near her pooping. She flees to her car out of panic, but accidentally runs over the man’s foot while he’s trying to explain what happened. After seeing him lying on the ground in pain, she offers him a ride. She finds out his name is Caloy (Joshua Garcia), a happy-go-lucky man with leukemia going on a bike ride to meet his absentee father for the first time. At first, they get on each other’s nerves, but slowly they’ll form a bond that will change their lives forever.
That’s a lot to go over, but the movie lays it all out masterfully. It takes its time to introduce both leads by spacing out their scenes neatly, allowing us to understand the pain they’re going through. It always linger in the background, even as their initial encounter leads to some of the funniest scenes written by Jadaone, events brought by the leads’ clashing egos that escalate into pure chaos. It even softens the blow of Star Cinema’s usual third act problems: taking shortcuts to the script in order to provide a happy ending. She injects enough looseness the road trip genre allows her without turning the movie into a series of sketches. But once the comedown from the hilarity sets in, it dives deep in their emotional scars brought upon by their dysfunctional families while finding solace in one another & opening themselves to hope.
This is especially true of Caloy, who has to deal not just with his lack of paternal love, but the effects of leukemia on his body & relationships. Thankfully, the movie handles it all with finesse. Using cancer would be an easy way to turn this into a cheap tearjerker, but the movie smartly avoids that impulse by working hard to get those tears. It reveals how much his sickness has taken its toll on his family’s dynamic. It’s excellently handled, but Caloy’s story slowly takes over the movie’s narrative that by the end, Nica’s story becomes an afterthought. It’s a shame since there’s interesting emotional territory it ignores. There are some faint traces of it in the movie, but it’s undeveloped compared to how Caloy’s story is treated.
It’s great that Julia Barretto & Joshua Garcia are becoming excellent actors in their own right, since they can cover the gaps left by the script. It’s also a more dramatic movie compared to Vince & Kath & James, & they stepped up to the challenge. Julia Barretto is excellent as another one of Jadaone’s strong-willed, witty female protagonists, while Joshua Garcia plays the same charming, happy-go-lucky joker in Vince & Kath & James, but with better dialogue. Both of them harness the sadness their characters feel & it pays off in its dramatic scenes, where their worries & disappointments are on full display without devolving into an overblown melodrama; the handheld cinematography shot with close-ups helps a lot. Not only that, their chemistry continues to be off the charts. It’s still chaste – they don’t even kiss! – but every longing stare & touch are full of romantic tension, it’s hard not to feel kilig. It’s like watching a powder keg on the verge of explosion.
It’s impressive to see how Joshua Garcia & Julia Barretto are turning into great actors themselves, but Antoinette Jadaone’s impressive material & command of tone certainly helps. It’s a symbiotic relationship, one that I hope we’ll see again soon. Love You to the Stars and Back isn’t just a charming, hilarious romantic comedy that doesn’t ignore the leads’ emotional realities, but a confirmation that a love team will not rise to greatness without highly capable people leading them.