Movie Review: To Love Some Buddy is the Jolt Pinoy Rom-Coms Need Right Now

TL:DR: While To Love Some Buddy isn’t immune to the usual flaws of romantic comedies, it’s fresh, invigorating take on a staid premise.

One of the best things about the rise of hugot culture is it emboldened filmmakers to probe the intricacies of love & romance in an unpretentious manner – which centers almost entirely on heterosexual couples – without shying away from the pain & sorrow that often accompanies it through a simple aesthetic: heavy emphasis on grounded storytelling peppered with wit & melancholy. It completely reinvented the style & language of Filipino romantic comedies, resulting in a number of massively successful, critically acclaimed films like the recent Exes Baggage. However, this drive towards emotional authenticity caused the genre to lose their sense of breezy fun. It’s not a bad thing, since there has to be room for small, personal stories in our theaters, and it’s not like the genre turned into a humorless slog. But aside from a few exceptions, the genre became too tethered to our own reality, losing the vibrance the genre is known for.

That’s why To Love Some Buddy immediately stands out. It’s the jolt the genre needs right now, using a classic romantic comedy premise without losing what made the current crop of Filipino romantic comedies special. Faith (Maja Salvador) is suddenly reunited with her old college classmate Julius (Zanjoe Marudo) after she accidentally sent him a nude photo intended for her boyfriend. Their tense, awkward reunion becomes less so once Faith finds out he’s a skilled piano player who composes songs for his brother, a young singer on the verge of breaking out. Both of them quickly become best friends who love to goof around & support each other without any judgment whenever they’re stressed from their jobs & families. Zanjoe Marudo & Maja Salvador build a friendly, playful rapport that makes it easy to buy into their close bond; it will be familiar to anyone who gets pinched a lot by their best friend as a form of light teasing. It’s the kind of friendship that’s become too attached & insular their friends are starting to ask questions if they are dating.

Julius even proposes the idea of dating each other to Faith. Faith is concerned this might ruin their relationship, but Julius naively assures her this wouldn’t affect their friendship in any way & they could go back to being friends when it doesn’t work out. Faith agrees & the two of them are officially a couple. This decision alone puts To Love Some Buddy ahead most romantic comedies, since it doesn’t waste its time ruminating what might happen if two best friends start dating each other. Instead, it jumps right in, affording Jason Paul Laxamana an opportuniy to show how the couple’s expectations on their relationship have changed & the difficulty in adjusting to their new dynamic. It’s a fresh, insightful take on an old dilemma, & this alone would put the film neatly alongside other great Filipino romantic comedies made today.

However, Laxamana takes this premise & infuses the film with an edgy, impish playfulness he’s known for & adding levity rarely seen on romantic comedies of its ilk. It loves to pull the rug on the audience by throwing in twists that liven up the film. It isn’t afraid to go for broke either. The film has a cartoonish sense of humor backed up by strong, gorgeous visuals which gives a simple crass joke or any of its observational humor targeting certain aspects of Filipino culture the extra oomph it needs to get a bigger laugh. It even indulges in a wacky dream sequence where Faith’s jealousy gives way to an outrageous brawl. Not all of the jokes work, since there’s a sense it tries too hard to grab your attention, but it never becomes distracting that it drags the film down.

This makes it easier to swallow Faith & Julius’ antics, as their endearing flaws become unpleasant & blown up immensely. Maja Salvador’s Faith has a few similarities with her role as Carson from I’m Drunk, I Love You: she is loud, funny, & neurotic. However, Faith has more confidence & ambition than Carson, even if the career she ended up with isn’t what she planned, & Salvador gives Faith a nervous edge that can turn chilly in a flash. Zanjoe Marudo’s Julius is stubborn & comfortable on his own skin, unwilling to work on any gig that he fears will compromise his artistic integrity. Marudo doesn’t turn Julius into a slacker, & you can see him putting up with Faith’s demands until he explodes completely. It also helps that Marudo & Salvador are completely captivating in their roles & the film doesn’t let us forget the reasons for their admittedly human impulses. Even Phoebe Walker gets dragged in their fights as one of Julius’ exes who becomes his own sounding board for his problems with Faith. She stands out not just because this is one of her rare roles where she’s not sexualized, but she’s a warm presence throughout in the film who’s unwilling to tolerate Julius’ flaws; someone please give her a lead in a romantic comedy.

It’s not prone to the frequent weaknesses of the genre. The way it handles its third act is too pat, even if it is handled more smoothly thanks to Marudo & Salvador portraying their maturity that happened offscreen. It also attempts to rationalize toxic monogamy by positing that jealousy is something that should be tolerated in couples because it’s the only way to keep a relationship afloat. Regardless, To Love Some Buddy bridges the gap between the wacky hijinx that’s gone out of vogue in recent years & the sharp, insightful musings on love that has become the new standard of Filipino romantic comedies to create something novel & invigorating. Hopefully, more filmmakers take note & build off from its execution & push the genre into more exciting places.

Advertisements

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.

angPambansangThirdWheelKiss