Directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina Cast: Kathryn Bernardo, Daniel Padilla, Richard Gomez, Dawn Zulueta, Ian Veneracion There is something curious about this tendency of a certain portion of the moviegoing public to wish for smarter commercial films. Although their conventional nature has long been established and accepted, local genre movies, for them to be considered deserving of attention and praise, are expected to bend rules and display cleverness.
Star Cinema understands this play of principles, for its main currency is context. When its writers and directors are in top form, they manage to come up with wonderful pieces of fluff that make a larger impression than those independent movies acclaimed at festivals abroad, an impact that self-serving snobs are keen on invalidating.
Although these commercial films cannot compete as far as novelty, depth, and breadth of subjects are concerned, they touch on specific aspects of Filipino sensibility, which may be trifling and negligible to some but in fact more genuine and persuasive than many attempts at social relevance. Frankly, no volume of Hollywood movies can match the experience of seeing the middleclass and the masses lose their heads over these reel lovers—an infatuation whose plain existence is its reason—and this is an identity to be proud of: When it comes down to the wire, the virtues, peculiarities, and nuances of kilig are hardly possible to interpret, translate, or subtitle.
Midway through the film, the noise becomes part of the viewing experience, a series of occasions on which a simple close-up signals a rumpus; and making a sober assessment, which takes into account both milieu and material, becomes trickier and more challenging.
At some point, though, a line can be drawn, and a few things can be articulated. Her Athena and Kelay can easily exude the qualities of a manic pixie dream girl despite not being one, but she is able to kill any sense of mystery and irony in her characters, her weak moments outshined by her strong ones. There is something regal about her overall appearance—how her clear skin, perfect teeth, and bright eyes convey such warm and pleasant feeling.
Kathryn is obviously a more convincing actor than Daniel, and she does it without overreaching or stealing his thunder, capturing those conflicting youthful emotions that people her age usually experience. Daniel, on the other hand, knows how to work his charm with ease, the laziness and overconfidence strangely coming off rather endearing, and this owes not only to his genes but also to his awareness of them. Whenever he crumples his forehead and furrows his eyebrows ostentatiously to express despair, or when he consciously does that knee-bending grin to win Kathryn over, he gets away with it deftly—he is so used to being forgiven.
Those scenes that show him dancing prove that he understands it: A certain demographic has taken it pretty seriously, encouraging Summit Media to pick it up and put it out under its Pop Fiction series. To some extent, this type of young adult novels seems to differentiate itself consciously from those romance pocketbooks with daring covers that quite a number of people find too crude the consumption of which often associated condescendingly with house helpers and folks from the province.
Their themes and narratives have glaring similarities, particularly with the heavily female point of view and abuse of lengthy voiceovers, but the difference lies in the target readership. Several of these readers, for some reason, have also found the eccentricities of Korean dramas and culture, subsequently amusing and worth emulating: Screenwriter Carmi Raymundo and director Cathy Garcia-Molina have seen these limitations and decided to work around them with Kathryn and Daniel in mind, because once their faces are pressed on the roles, the narrative is sure to find its own direction.
The riskiest change is setting the bulk of the story in the 90s, which Garcia-Molina carries too far to achieve something downright silly and out-and-out artificial. Wigs remain a Star Cinema curse, and seeing them on Kathryn and Daniel is like watching them fully submit to a terrible initiation rite. Cinematographer Dan Villegas enjoys filling the screen with bright light and vivid colors, and despite moving repeatedly from past to present, he maintains this glossy texture that is easy on the eyes, keeping that surface busy but almost weightless, as though he were tempered by love himself.
This tacky 90s imitation, however, rarely feels dishonest. The many decorations in the film only serve to surround Kenji and Athena and are not there to define them. When those options are laid down, the movie bares its flaws and gives in to crappy turns of plot. Another concern is the decision to let the pair play both roles, and perhaps the only way to answer it is to imagine it the other way around.
Again, commercial films are after the effect, and they are allowed to have these implausible situations as long as they accomplish larger-than-life consequences. After two dull feature-length movies Must Be… Love and Pagpag and two remarkable television shows Princess and I and Got to Believe , Kathryn and Daniel are already well-acquainted with the body language that drives their fans mad, gestures and actions that can set off incredible reactions.
Garcia-Molina takes advantage of this, but she also challenges them. By putting them in two backdrops, it feels as though she wanted them to relearn the basics of kilig, stretching their boundaries to discover finer distinctions that can be explored and new flirty tricks that can be carried out to maximum effect. She is a director that can easily be dismissed or overrated, but after more than a decade of sticking to her method and style, appropriating them to a number of love teams whether tried or new, it just seems fair to recognize that she is an indispensable filmmaker, as vital to this industry as Lav Diaz and Wenn Deramas, for only she can deliver romantic comedies that are entertaining, insightful, and sensitive, with flair and skill, with hardly an unpleasant aftertaste.