by Janela Mauryn Bufi
The sophomore film of the fast rising love team of Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto entitled Love You to the Stars and Back was recently released in movie theatres. It is a coming of age romantic comedy revolving around two characters, Mika and Caloy, who are both on their individual journey to deal with past grief. This common experience leads them to bond in a single day full of adventures and mishaps, eventually causing them to fall in love. With the natural chemistry and appeal of the two main actors, Love You to the Stars and Back will engage you with its humor and emotional scenes. Delivered by a capable cast, this movie is entertaining enough with a plot that the mass and the fans of Joshua and Julia will surely love, especially after the success of their first pairing in Vince and Kath and James.
JoshLia, the couple’s nickname, is now a part of the long and continuously expanding selection of Filipino love teams that include KathNiel, JaDine, AlDub, and LizQuen. They have all gained fame after being put together in a television show or film, and they have rarely separated projects since. Now, it is commonly assumed that you need a leading lady or a leading man to advance your career in Philippine showbiz. While there is no problem with casting love teams, the danger comes when filmmakers ride the wave of their popularity thinking that this is the only thing that will sell particularly to the masa and in the process, sadly sacrificing content.
According to Dr. Victor Valbuena, an Asian film and media studies professor from Ateneo de Manila University, rom-coms dominate Philippine cinema because they cater to the romantic fantasies of the younger generation that compose half of our population. In addition, Filipinos have a hugot and kilig culture. As per Gallup’s 2016 Global Emotions Report, Filipinos are one of “the most emotional people in the world.” This makes it very easy for viewers to relate to the characters they see in the media. “These love teams provide them with a vicarious romantic experience while they are inside the movie theatres or in front of their TV screens,” says Dr. Valbuena.
Although admittedly entertaining at times, these movies of popular love teams with the same-old romantic plot are, dare I say it, getting tiring. The truth is a lot of moviegoers are hungry for something different. The sleeper hit Kita Kita is one proof. The film was a surprise success because “the story was not the usual formulaic romantic comedy,” as said by Dr. Valbuena. The pairing of Alessandra De Rossi and Empoy Marquez, one who was never considered as a leading man before the movie, was also well-received by the audience and the casting choice was what Dr. Valbuena described as “a touch of genius.” Before this, several films such as That Thing Called Tadhana, I’m Drunk I Love You, and Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa among others, with unlikely pairings have also been widely acclaimed.The recent increase of support for indie films further demonstrate that Filipinos are ready for these kinds of materials. Last year’s controversial Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) was applauded by the Filipino audience and this year’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP) was also a giant leap forward. In fact, the PPP grossed a total of P150 million from its screening from August 16 to 22 and was even granted an extended screening in selected cinemas due to popular demand. These festivals featured extraordinary films that made use of powerful storylines, aesthetically pleasing cinematography, and competent actors that allowed Pinoy moviegoers to experience local films that tell fresh stories they can be proud of. This makes us hopeful for the future of Philippine cinema.
Film producers should take these as an eye-opener to the fact that movies can deviate from its usual ingredients of 1) a popular Filipino love team, 2) a cliché plot, and 3) an obvious happy ending. Dr. Valbuena adds, “a successful film must have a good story to tell, with a narrative that does not insult the intelligence of the viewing audience.” In addition to this, the acting, production design, cinematography, editing, and other aspects of the film must also be given as much attention.
The problem lies not on these celebrity couples but on films banking on the appeal of the love team instead of the appeal of the love theme. I may or may not echo the majority of moviegoers’ sentiments, but don’t you think we’ve seen enough? It’s about time the Filipinos are given more films they deserve.