Dan Villegas is reinventing the rom-com genre of Philippine cinema. This is the same genre that Star Cinema has overused and milked, the genre that has been judged for its cliches, kabaduyan and titles that have nothing to do with the story. Villegas’s past two directorial rom-com features–“English Only Please” and “#WalangForever”–were all sleeper hits, and rightfully so, because all these films showed palpable inspiration to give kilig a new face. In short, the treatment never felt lazy. They experimented with new pairings–Derek & Jen and Echo & Jen. Instead of relying on established loveteams, these films worked on careful scripts that know their identities–when to make the audience laugh, when to make them cry, when to make them squeal.
Vilegas’s third mainstream rom-com feature, “Always Be My Maybe”, is no different.
Starring the loveteam-less Gerald Anderson and new Kapamilya Arci Munoz, the film tells the story of Jake (Anderson) and Tintin (Munoz), two people who were dumped by their significant others. They met six months later, clicked, and decided to be each other’s wingman, until feelings got complicated.
If Star Cinema were a box, the film is in the constant process of negotiating with the tested formulas of the genre. It does not succeed all of the time; it sometimes resorts to familiar and vapid representations in terms of gender (the dichotomy and steoreotyping of expectations between men and women) and socioeconomic status (Star Cinema rom-com has always been about the middle or upper class or the intersection of two classes, but never between two people of lower class). The main characters had a lot of recognizable character-actors as sidekicks or friends but, except for Kakai, most of them were given thankless roles (which is better because the tendency is for the attention to be diverted to these people, but what Star Cinema could have done is to give these roles to lesser known actors).
But aside from this, the film deserves commendation for making the most out of the box where it is trapped. It throws several punchlines at the most appropriate moments (the scenes with the “sisig”, “I can’t even”, sushi, “aftersex glow” and the series of Youtube videos aka makeup metaphors were the funniest moments, at least based on the audience reception at the cinema). Also, Munoz’s Tintin, although not the first in recent years in mainstream cinema, is again refreshing because she is a woman that is neither innocent nor holy. She is liberated and carefree and no one makes a big deal out of it. It is innovative because it captures a specific reality–the dating scene of the higher class of the new millennium.
I’d like to mention a minor scene in a film that stood out for me. Jake (Anderson) decided to pursue his passion in photography. He told his father (Tirso Cruz III), owner of a huge company, about it. In the generic rom-com, we would have an antagonistic father who would be so negative about his son’s change of heart. In “Always Be My Maybe”, Jake’s father said three things: “Aren’t you too old to change careers?”, “Are you already sure about it?” and “Okay, I’m proud of you”. In little, subtle ways, the genre is providing new avenues for change.
In terms of performances, Anderson is definitely back in shape. I thought before that his third wheel-ing with the Lizquen loveteam was a career downfall, as he never really had a stable romance genre partner post-Kim Chiu and Sarah Geronimo teamups. Here, he portrays a Jake that is charismatic and dreamy. He complements his new partner, Arci Munoz, who never had her shining moment in her previous TV networks. She (not) arguably is the breakout star of 2016 because of this effective rom-com.
Of course, since this is a romantic comedy, it ends happily (unless the genre shifts to drama ala #WalangForever and someone dies). The reconciliation between the lead characters is not overly dramatic–no one catches anyone at the airport and there are no big surprises. Instead, we find two people finally realizing what they mean to each other. It’s not surprising, but it’s decent and gentle. And it makes sense, because love is not a spectacle, but a human experience.