Movie Review: Sakaling Maging Tayo is a Charmingly Awkward Road Trip Around Baguio

TL;DR: Sakaling Maging Tayo (If We Fall in Love) may shuffle along with a somewhat inorganic, chill plot, but it’s got sincerity, charm, & awkwardness to spare.

Sakaling Maging Tayo (If We Fall in Love) concerns two people who are stuck in different ways. Laya (Elisse Joson) is a college freshman about to leave Baguio for Manila after her philandering ex-boyfriend broke up with her. But before she does, she wants to speak to him for she thinks she might be pregnant & she didn’t have sex with anyone else. However, her only proof is she hasn’t had her period for more than a week. Pol has always had a crush on Laya ever since she handed her a handkerchief during enrolment, but he never had the guts to talk to her. He’s satisfied pining for her from afar.

Both of them are knocked out of their comfort zones in a single night. Pol borrowed his father’s taxi – which he often drives himself to earn some quick cash – for a fun night out with his best friend at a music festival scattered around the city. After a contentious meeting with her ex that left her in tears, she enters Pol’s taxi, unknowingly thinking he was on duty tonight. Pol relents & soon they find themselves knowing more about each other. On a whim, they decide to accomplish a series of dares Laya wrote with her friends & kept on a pouch, roaming around Baguio while Pol hopes he can tell her how she really feels.

Young love is often portrayed as a dizzying, energetic rush of emotions, where people rush headfirst into a relationship consequences be damned. Sakaling Maging Tayo is different. Laya & Pol are both on the cusp of adulthood & it shows in their interactions. They put up facades of inner strength for others when deep down they are as anxious & awkward as everyone else. They are afraid of what the future holds for them – either due to its possibilities or its limitations – & would rather run away from their problems. Embracing the status quo is much easier.

J.P. Habac bakes all of this uncertainty into a coming-of-age road movie that sputters gently as it moves. It hobbles from one event to the next, with the only connecting tissue being Laya & Pol’s burgeoning attraction throughout a single night. Some of the obstacles don’t feel organic, which makes it feel sluggish than it should be, but it can be easily ignored thanks to its relaxed vibe. It also portrays Laya & Pol’s interactions as realistic as possible. Everyone in the film speak like ordinary people do, and it relishes on the stiff interactions fueled by doubt & jitters, familiar to anyone trying to learn more about a person they like a lot. It savors every forced laugh, every knowing glance, & at times allowing the silence to hang in the air.

This isn’t as cringe-inducing as it sounds. It’s smothered with a charming innocence that’s alluring instead of abrasive, just like J.P. Habac’s previous film I’m Drunk, I Love You, it also has a fantastic, bittersweet soundtrack underscoring their emotions bubbling underneath the surface. Of course, the main couple sell all of this in its awkward glory. With his look alone, McCoy de Leon can pine for someone with equal infatuation & heartbreak, while Elisse Joson can easily shift between confusion & confidence. Even with his brief appearance, Bembol Roco is also outstanding as Pol’s father. His poignant scene with de Leon where he gives him the advice he needs to hear stands as one of the best father-son scenes I’ve seen a while. Sakaling Maging Tayo may enjoy going off course, often to its detriment, but it knows that you can’t run away forever from your problems. Sometimes, you need to make the first few moves.

MMFF 2018: Mary, Marry Me is a Fun Romp That Loses Itself in the Wedding

TL;DR: Mary, Marry Me is too distracted by hijinx to effectively deliver a lovely story between estranged sisters.

Putting real-life sisters Toni & Alex Gonzaga in the same movie is already a great idea on its own. If done right, their sisterly bond can be easily translated onscreen with no trouble, and their different comedic personas will result in hilarious interplay. Adding Sam Milby in the mix by putting him at the center of a love triangle between the two, somewhat reviving his successful love team with Toni Gonzaga during the last decade, and you have a possible crowdpleaser that’s sure to entice any Gonzaga superfan. To be fair, Mary, Marry Me knows this & tries its best to mine the talents of everyone involved & turn it into something special. However, the end result is so sloppy it ends up undermining the whole film.

Ever since they were young, Mary Jane (Toni Gonzaga) has always been protective of her younger sister Mary Anne (Alex Gonzaga). They may bicker once in a while, but they always remained close. But when both of their parents die in a car accident, Mary Jane decides that the best thing to do is to accept her aunt’s offer to petition Mary Anne to America. Neither one of them want to be separated from each other, but Mary Jane believes this will give her sister a chance at a better life. She promises her sister that she’d visit her in America, but she never did.

They would be reunited decades later, but not in the way they expected. Mary Anne is returning to the Philippines to get married in her home country, with Mary Jane – now a successful wedding planner – organizing her sister’s wedding. What Mary Jane didn’t know is Mary Anne’s fiance is Pete (Sam Milby), Mary Jane’s ex-boyfriend. Mary Jane was initially concerned about their setup, but she was reassured by both Mary Jane & Pete that this wouldn’t be a problem. However, Mary Anne still has feelings for Pete, which she knows will not only jeopardize the wedding, but her already fraught bond with her sister.

It’s a setup that could devolve into a clichéd, misogynistic mess almost immediately, in the grand tradition of bridal movies about women’s supposed inability to stay sane in a wedding & retain healthy relationships with other women. But outside of a single critical instance of slut-shaming, it mostly sidesteps this by focusing on the unresolved tension between the two sisters. It’s a smart decision, since not only is it more compelling than watching two women fight over a man, the film creates a complicated dynamic caused by their long separation that is sweet & touching.

The fact that the Gonzaga sisters are paired together helps a lot too. Each scene between them are crackling with energy, with Alex Gonzaga putting her hyperactive, heightened persona to good use, giving a much needed jolt to already funny jokes, while Toni Gonzaga acts as the straight man who can fight back with grace while befuddled at the situation she’s trapped in. Their obvious affection for each other shines throughout the film, adding a layer of poignancy even in the film’s smallest moments; like when Mary Anne & Mary Jane goofing off as they go through their old stuff.

It’s too bad it clashes with the broad romantic comedy it’s built out off. Not because it’s terrible! Some of the jokes may be stale, but they are funnier & sharper than it has any right to be, even if it can be mean-spirited at times &. The rest of the cast, including Melai Cantiveros, Bayani Agbayani, Milo Elmido Jr., & Moi Marcampo can sell any joke through their delivery alone. Sam Milby is a fantastic foil for the two women. He’s charismatic & has great chemistry with both of them, especially with Toni Gonzaga, whose time-tested chemistry is on full display here.

It just couldn’t find a way for these two tones to mesh naturally. Instead of providing a wacky backdrop for the sisters’ emotionally loaded relationship, it becomes a distraction. The movie keeps circling around to the broad hijinx afforded by its premise to setting up Pete’s romance with both Mary Anne & Pete. Those moments are delightful on its own, but it stalls an already complicated story from moving forward. It’s frustrating, since it reduces the emotional impact of the movie’s final scenes, where everything comes to a head. Mary, Marry Me may have its eyes on the altar, but the real relationship it needed to focus on isn’t on the church aisle.

Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: All of You Focuses Too Much on the Rut

TL;DR: All of You could’ve been a layered examination of cohabitation or a slow breakdown of a mismatched couple, but it gets too dour & repetitive to make it work.

Two years after breaking off with her fiance, Gab (Jennylyn Mercado) tries online dating for the first time while researching for a business venture in Taiwan. She matches up with Gabby (Derek Ramsey), a businessman on vacation who co-owns a bar called “Neverland” with his friends. They’re both attracted to each other & quickly hit it off after their first date, continuing to see each other in the Philippines for months. When Gabby asked Gab to move with him – even though their relationship is so young they’ve only been together for less than a year – she agrees, but what they didn’t expect is how living together would be harder than they thought.

This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Dan Villegas, who continues to mine mature stories out of couples trying to navigate the modern world without breaking themselves apart. It starts out with so much promise, with Dan Villegas, Melissa Mae Chua, & Carl Chavez showing off their ability to create realistic, engaging dialogue between two people falling in love. As usual, Jennylyn Mercado & Derek Ramsey are irresistible as a couple, whose romantic sparks just fly off the screen, but this time, they have more intimate scenes compared to their previous movie English Only, Please that further their bond.

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But once they start living together, the movie slowly reveals how incompatible they are for each other, their personalities & habits clashing frequently. This would’ve made for a fascinating romantic drama about the pleasures & pitfalls of cohabitation, but the movie slightly shifts its focus at how their inability to compromise & match their priorities will slowly erode whatever love they have for each other. The movie presents this descent with the same grounded tone Villegas is known for. Jennylyn Mercado & Derek Ramsey get a chance to stretch their acting chops as a couple trying to hold onto their relationship, even as their frustrations get the better of them. And throughout the movie, Dexter dela Peña’s simple yet eye-catching compositions shine through.

Unfortunately, it focuses too much on the descent. The whole movie turns into a bleak look at the main couple, without offering any respite from the doom & gloom, that whatever pleasures or insights that can be gleamed are drowned by its bitter, repetitive tone. Not too mention it ends on a false, abrupt note that, while plausible, feels like it shrugged off everything that happened during their relationship since we weren’t privy to the changes that happened leading up to it & it’s a betrayal of what the movie is about: love just isn’t enough to make a relationship work. Just like its central couple, the individual elements surrounding All of You could’ve made it great, but it just doesn’t add up to a satisfying whole.

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