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.