Film Diary: The Breakup Playlist

As a cinephile, my expectations of a romantic musical are quite high, especially since I am a fan of John Carney, creator of the beloved indie Once and the mainstream ensemble Begin Again. If you haven’t seen both films then it’d be easier to embrace this Piolo Pascual-Sarah Geronimo starrer, which is a favorable change of melody among Star Cinema’s monthly (and sporadically Viva Film’s) churning of commercial romance. But as a reconciled Gino and Trixie belt out their signature hit at the end, I found myself singing along. All the pretentions about THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST are stowed for a more critical filtration. I give credit where it is due and for this particular film, I’d be singing some praises (and subtly call out flat notes on the side).

Fashioned as another ‘could-be fatal’ mainstream romance, THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST is surprisingly indie at heart. It may not bear the poetic and clever flare of That Thing Called Tadhana but writer Antoinette Jadaone finds the commercial and creative harmony that her earlier released You’re My Boss ruefully lacks. For this particular cinematic case, the genre’s rejuvenation is fitting. After all, it showcased the much-anticipated pairing of the industry’s two biggest stars. But the star power could implode the overall output if the narrative aspect is ignored for the sake of guilty sugar-coated pandering. Fortunately, the creators (also noting Director Dan Villegas), are learned of such criminal onscreen offenses and redirected their attention to the story, setting and situation of its characters, thus organically steering a journey for its two protagonists. Gino and Trixie are more than just lovers; they are dreamers whose passion for music became their stage for commercial success, romantic relationship and personal growth. Hiring the ‘pop star royalty’ and ‘ultimate heartthrob’ to play relatively modest and struggling characters is an irony that may not work most of the time, but Geronimo and Pascual’s adapted personalities fit agreeably in the scaled-down indie music scene. Indulgently throbbing of heartbreak songs and thoughtfully inspired from its humble musical burrow, THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST builds an identity that sets it apart from its homogeneous and forgettable contemporaries. A book may be judge based on its cover but a single song doesn’t create an impression for a whole playlist. It may be frankly intense of emotions (to the fault), but you’d be a surprise on how subtle is the contextual heftiness the film offers.

Sarah Geronimo as Trixie.

Sticking to its title, the movie is divided into five ‘tracks’ that retreats and jumps (to the past and present) in the eventful years of Gino and Trixie’s relationship. The narrative cuts aren’t exactly inventive in manipulating the pacing but through Villegas’ guidance (like the unconventional flow of English Only, Please), the editing is refreshing especially if THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST wants to portray the formulaic love story. The dialogue, given the predictability of the consequences, occasionally slips to the ‘heard’ territory where catchy one-liners land with precision, but there’s a fresh scene that smartly incorporates foreign album titles into a playful (better yet flirty) repartee. The opening act is a meaty appetizer of the looming break-up’s gravity, followed by a sympathetic song-and-cry number as Trixie tearfully watches Gino perform without her. A steeled Trixie is introduced in the first track (‘The Reunion’, 2015) as she is reunited with her former band for a business proposition; her attitude a vast contradiction to the soulful and gentle law student who first encounters Gino as her adviser in a summer music camp (‘How We Met’, 2009). The track names would have been ingenious if they were titled after an ‘original song’, but such preference is better put off, along with the other nitpicking stones cast on the movie (which I’ll discuss later on).

Photo grabbed from Star Cinema Forums website.

Paano Ba Ang Magmahal” is THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST’s banner song, composed by the talented Yeng Constantino and originally performed by Erik Santos and Lizel Garcia in 2012. Geronimo and Pascual’s duet is pulsating of passion and made gritty by the alternative rock vibe, a welcome diversion from the typical pop love songs of the preceding romance flicks. Here’s where the film is committed in living its chosen setting, by acclimatizing to the underground venue of independent music. Popular rock artists are enlisted for supporting roles (Rocksteddy’s Teddy Corpuz and The Dawn’s Jet Pangan as band members) and cameos as themselves (Wolfgang’s Basti Artadi, Spongecola’s Yael Yuzon, and ex-Sugarfree vocalist Ebe Dancel), that bring legitimacy to the story’s immersion to indie. Rarely does a local film put ‘Original Pinoy Music’ (OPM) to the spotlight (I forever roll my eyes on this certain critique) and OPM becomes the most valuable element in THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST. As the more adept singer, Geronimo crosses from pop to rock ballad with an inspired somberness that matches Trixie’s personality. Pascual may not possess the musical chemistry with her but it does make him in-character of Gino’s egotism and insecurity. The movie doesn’t delve much into the dynamics of Pencil Grip but Trixie and Gino’s band doesn’t feel like a perfunctory device for the sake of story-telling. The self-awareness on its setting is worth appreciating because for once, the genre is not retold with a too-good-to-be-true narrative, but one where the ending is neither happy nor sad but realistic.

One of the film’s climatic moments.

THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST isn’t the most novel romantic drama of the recent times but the potency is undeniable given the emotional maturity that it allowed its characters to experience. Geronimo shows depth as an actress through Trixie’s multifaceted role as a lover, daughter, and a woman grown. Pascual remains irresistible whose ragged attractiveness doesn’t outshine his personal struggles. As staples of the genre, both are reliable in more than fleshing out the emotions of their characters and their acting prowess are more recognized because of the better onscreen material. Though definitely inspired from international releases, THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST is no Once and most especially Begin Again since Carney’s filmography has always geared to platonic love. The Villegas-directed film should be treated independently as a sporadic feature where two blockbuster stars personify the sincerity of love in a modest approach. With a narrative that doesn’t beat around a bush and a reassuring goodwill to OPM, these added features makes the movie more layered and rich in substance. Constantino also lends her musical genius on two other songs that are equally fervent of Trixie and Gino’s feelings. In the end, the film is a love story. What matters is how romance is retold and presented and among its monthly releases, Star Cinema and Viva Films finally achieved the correct melody.

THE BREAKUP PLAYLIST is a well-intentioned romantic drama that earns points for its narrative discernment, emotional rawness, and genuine self-awareness that many of its contemporaries miserably lack. It may not reach its full potential but inexplicably, it’s a rejuvenating step in re-tuning the genre, credits to Villegas and Jadaone. Hopefully, this type of movie will not be a one-hit wonder.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Next Romance attraction for the month of July: Capsule Reviews

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Capsule Review: You’re My Boss

It’s difficult to not compare the indie darling That Thing Called Tadhana from the mainstream YOU’RE MY BOSS; but since both were directed by Antoinette Jadaone, the two films become a case study on how romantic comedies are treated depending on the scale of production. YOU’RE MY BOSS is no fate but pure formula that Star Cinema applies to the genre. But Jadaone manages to make do of the platonic-turned-romantic relationship between Georgina (Toni Gonzaga) and Pong (Coco Martin) who performed the serviceable humor and somberness that their characters require. Like Tadhana’s land-based travel, YOU’RE MY BOSS follows an intimate and transformative flight of its two leads, in this case, two work colleagues tasked of a marketing pitch to a Japanese investor for their airline company, Skyjet (one of the film’s unabashed but narratively coherent product placements). But while Tadhana relishes on its contemplative journey, YOU’RE MY BOSS’ unhurried pacing has been predetermined to a happy ending. The usage of the typical romantic formula forsakes the element of surprise in developing a subversive love story, which the film falls trap of. So where does Jadaone’s style manifests? Cutting the chase on exposition, she resorted to playful character moments and discreetly illuminating scenes to establish Georgina and Pong’s growing closeness, even if the actors don’t possess the ‘spark’ in jumpstarting their romance.

Despite the backstory, Georgina and Pong don’t match the emotional depth of Tadhana’s Mace and Anthony but it proves to be informative on their motives for self-preservation. The characters, however, are familiar of Gonzaga’s and Martin’s roles in past projects that are made blatant by their self-deprecating laughs through sarcasm and lisp. Gonzaga once again plays an intensely career-driven and fashion-savvy adult still pining for her ex (Starting Over Again) while Martin lets himself loose as a naive but not-to-be misjudged promdi (from the province) who undergoes a closet overhaul anew (Maybe This Time). Their burgeoning attraction intersects with the film’s allegory on honesty that makes YOU’RE MY BOSS more than the average rom-com by taking the initiative of incorporating a simple yet solid overarching non-romantic theme. The film is also chiding and conscious of technology’s role in building one’s online personality that contrasts the actual identity and acknowledging its existence as a means of communicating complicated feelings that are more conveniently said online or through text. YOU’RE MY BOSS’ premise isn’t the most interesting and ingenious starting point (playing make-pretend then unveiling their true selves) and it loses unpredictability in the process; nor does Jadaone make an impression in her venture to mainstream film-making. But it’s not entirely her fault, but perhaps, the bosses’.

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Capsule Review: ‘English Only, Please’, ‘Halik sa Hangin’

Warning: These two films are not particularly flattering telling of love onscreen. Benefiting from its Metro Manila Film Festival boost, English Only, Please is a crowd-pleaser that charms with its imperfect yet sincere script that could definitely be improved (ex. more distinct cast). Meanwhile, Halik sa Hangin extremely disappoints in becoming a refreshing romance whose attempt to supernatural succumbs to superficial.

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ENGLISH ONLY, PLEASE

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Jennylyn Mercado and Derek Ramsay are amiable as the romantic leads but it’s the hearty and humorous screenplay that buoys ENGLISH ONLY, PLEASE among the mundane saccharine sea of mainstream romantic comedies. It still tangles on the genre’s cliche themes and doesn’t reinvent the cinematic love game but at least ENGLISH ONLY, PLEASE pleased viewers by its unconventional narrative that translates to a more believable set-up of emotional connections, without the need of grand display of affections that its contemporaries has long practiced.

Rating: 2.5/5.0

HALIK SA HANGIN

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Star Cinema starts its 2015 slate with a deceptive Goth romance that was too besotted on unoriginality and illogic. HALIK SA HANGIN takes too much time in establishing the angst and attraction between Mia (Julia Montes) and Gio (Gerald Anderson) that the hastened twists in the last 30 minutes were a clumsy send-off. This pseudo-romance is a nonsensical chimera that amalgams every plot device and cliches known in the romance and horror genres. At one point, it becomes a talky romantic melodrama that surprises into a psychological thriller (which comes off as a nice touch) but in the end, suffers from the silliness on the reveal of Gio’s true nature and Mia’s last act of redemption. The film’s fondness of meaningless cliffhangers further demeans the whole purpose of its narrative. Not even comparable to the eerie ambiance of the excellent Nasaan Ka Man, HALIK SA HANGIN is a clumsy experiment that fails in repackaging the romance genre with a mysterious and sensible skin, and overall fumbles as one of the most incoherent Filipino films of recent memory.

Rating: 1.0/5.0

Film Diary: “The Trial”

The Trial is an intimate and judicious family-legal drama that successfully knots its bigger themes of love, trust and forgiveness, despite a safe treatment of its delicate subject matter.

Read at your own risk.

Movie Poster

In Star Cinema’s annual cinematic slate which is often dominated by the cross pollination of romance, comedy, horror and melodrama, a wildflower is sporadically plucked from the production company’s creative garden. It may not yield the same as the commercial returns of its honeyed genres but Star Cinema’s venture to mature, more thought-provoking films is a much-awaited reward to its patient and more sensible viewers. Last year it got into serious business in ‘On The Job’, a rare action-thriller that was timely of the current political landscape and compelling on the intertwined narratives of its mentor-mentee relationships. This year, audience takes the witness stand as the legitimacy of the story of a mentally challenged man accused of rape is scrutinized in Chito S. Roño’s “The Trial”.

Bessy (Jessy Mendiola) is John Lloyd Cruz’s (Ronald) teacher in ‘The Trial’.

As the film slowly unravels, The Trial does not only become a showcase for John Lloyd Cruz’s sympathetic portrayal of the man on the pit of controversy but it opens to a wider perspective of how relationships are tested through the intersected story line of Richard Gomez and Gretchen Barretto. Theirs maybe the more familiar between the two stories but Julian and Amanda’s marital breakdown (and eventual reconciliation) were the more powerful, especially during the devastating memories of their lost son who bridges them to the faulty Ronald. Prickly as I am on how myopic the characters are tied to the conflict (especially in an ensemble cast), The Trial takes time in establishing everyone’s story and glides to scenes that are anchored on their motivations revealed by flashbacks. For instance, rather than immediately presenting Amanda as Ronald’s ally, she is first seen as the friend of Bessy’s (Jessy Mendiola) aunt who persuaded Amanda to observe Ronald and make him admit his crime through her profession as a developmental psychologist. The scene segues to Ronald telling his parents that he saw Amanda prior to their first meeting, until he successfully retrieved a memorabilia that unlocks the deeper connection between them.

Slow burning but revealing, The Trial stirs to a straight-forward narrative, occasional curbing on salient sentimentality that doesn’t reduce the material to melodrama. The tropes of marriage on the rocks and a withdrawn mother are stale ingredients on other dramas but The Trial makes them purposeful as it explores the interconnectedness of its characters under the umbrella of its bigger theme. Similar on how the court room aims to dissect the two sides of truths, the films slices the many layers of its characters, enabling viewers to discern their respective decisions. Ricardo Lee’s screenplay does not lose its translation on Chito S. Roño’s placid direction (as opposed to Joel Lamangan’s visual disconnect of “Hustisya”). The director doesn’t overplay the most dramatic crescendos, except a bungled attempt on the parallel sequences between Amanda and Ronald; and Julian and Ronald’s parents. Nevertheless, the film’s tranquil atmosphere is consistent from start to finish, along with sprinkled pints of humor that somehow became inherent to the story.

Gretchen Barretto as Amanda who becomes Ronald’s pseudo-psychologist in ‘The Trial’.

The Trial is most buzzed on Cruz’s portrayal of a mentally challenged character which is more high-functioning than Gerald Anderson’s ‘Budoy’. Cruz deftly blends Ronald’s docility, comprehension and confusion but what I found more interesting was his subjugation to violence. Gomez draws from his commanding physicality the armor of Attorney Julian but Barretto bears the more emotional gravitas, employing grace and regret as a mother who wants to amend her shortcomings. Reunited with their ‘Maria Mercedez’ director, Mendiola and Vivian Velez are restrained as their characters’ moral intentions are also in question. Enrique Gil once again becomes the forbearer of the Generation Y as Julian and Amanda’s departed son, using technology to preserve (heart-breaking) memories, similar to his lead role in ‘She’s The One’. Capping the ensemble cast are Sylvia Sanchez and Vince De Jesus as Ronald’s dysfunctional parents whose reversed gender roles find the film’s light moments but also the earnest ones.

But is the controversial theme legitimately addressed?

With a wholesome cast in a controversial subject matter, The Trial becomes a litmus test on how a mainstream film can deliver a mature theme and if the critical and commercial responses would be favorable. Despite the slights of violence, raw language, and sexual references, the film is a wholly family drama that doesn’t shy away from the taboo. Unlike the other dramas that would rather capture the provocativeness of carnal and adulterous desires, The Trial aims to crack the fragility of human relationships and how it can be strengthened again. An after-thought, however, is how the film neutrally addressed its criminal case of rape; that it felt too safe mainly because its wholesome cast is already a takeaway that The Trial would not trudge to darker waters. But there’s nothing wrong in being safe and the film did not apprehensively treat its subject matter. The Trial knows its boundaries as a family drama, not a criminal drama. I admit that despite my satisfaction, I would have wanted the film to explore the grim consequences of the alleged crime (since it’s already in the unchartered territory), but disputably, an addition of violence, sex or vulgarity could not make its values any better.

There’s another unspoken theme that The Trial teases in its opening and closing scene that fortifies its hold as family drama: the importance of parenting. Ronald moonlights as a Grade 7 student but he is one of the school’s gardeners. His monologue of how he tends to his plants foreshadows the relationship of the sons and daughter to their respective parents and guardian in the film. Like a delicate flower, Ronald’s needs are special that is arguably not met by his parents. Bessy is merely treated as an ornament by her selfish aunt. And Martin, despite having a perfect life, is overlooked by his parents, just like a pretty flower drowned in the vast greenness amidst his frequent call of attention.

It’s underwhelming that we have to wait until next year to see Star Cinema’s next wildflower. Through ‘On The Job’ and ‘The Trial’, mainstream films are slowly warming up on exploring the grayness of morality rather than being soaked in red (be it love or blood, depending on the perennial genres). The Trial is a satisfactory return to form of modern family drama that still has a lot to improve on, particularly crossing unconventional narratives and more resonant topics. The film may not dared to challenge itself more on the theme but it knows its boundaries. I do look forward to more mature subject matters that don’t necessarily book shock value to make it controversial and is conscious enough to know the message it wants to send without the expense of its narrative. Until then, see you in court.

Quotable lines:

Hindi moving on ‘yun. Nililibing mo lang ang puso mo ng buhay.” – Amanda

Ronald, ang mundong ito ay hindi para sa atin. Para sa matatalino, sa malalakas. Hindi para sa atin.” – Bessy

The Trial

Produced by: Star Cinema

Release date: October 25, 2014

Review: 3.5/5.0

Photos grabbed from Rappler, The Daily Pedia, The Trial FB page