ISA PA, WITH FEELINGS (Prime Cruz, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Isa Pa, With Feelings:

1. As a certified reality-competition junkie, one of my favorite shows is that cheesy, Eezy Dancing-like US program called Dancing with the Stars. If the title isn’t a giveaway, it’s a dance competition program where washed up film and TV stars and/or B-list celebrities from other arenas (music, sports, politics) are willing to make fools of themselves (sorry, I mean learn the art of dance and prove their worth) on national TV.

In a previous season, America’s Next Top Model hottie Nyle DiMarco defied all odds by giving stunning performances week after week before finally winning the coveted Mirror Ball trophy. Oh yeah, he’s Deaf by the way. Imagine not being able to hear the music (relying on just vibrations) and still move in perfect rhythm with his professional ballroom partner like he’s the king of the dance floor. It would be an understatement to say that I was in tears after his every number.

I had the exact same feeling of awe and (tears of) joy when Deaf Gali (Carlo Aquino) performed that lovely contemporary routine with Hearing Mara (Maine Mendoza) during this film’s climactic dance recital. Teacher Geleen Eugenio really taught them well.

2. There’s something about Maine’s smile that can light up an entire room. When Mara woke up on the day of her licensure exam and started prepping by nonchalantly dancing around in her condo, the oldie in me wanted to slap her silly for not taking things seriously (neng, make or break moment ito mag-last review ka o ayusin mo ang mga requirements na dadalhin mo hindi ito Carefree commercial juskong mahabagin), but the growing hatred simply disappeared as soon as she grinned from utter embarrassment (oops, cutie neighbor alert!). Also, (insert “super gwapo ni Carlo nakakababa ng self-esteem leche” here).

Even with a few noticeable acting tics (mostly broad reactions to look funny) carried over from her Kalyeserye days, I was happy to see that Maine was able to flex her dramatic skills here. As in magaling talaga siya that I literally said “And galing naman” in every scene where she was required to cry (after seeing that she failed the exams, during that touching moment when she hugged her mom after a heartbreak, and that entire “Gali, mahal kita eh” sequence). It was also fun to see her DubSmash skills put to good use during that hilarious “Matitikman nila ang ganti ng isang api!” reenactment.

(Of course, Carlo was amazing as well because I cried every time he cried and laughed every time he laughed and turned into a teenage girl every time he smiled. If you still need more words to describe his performance here, simply look up all the synonyms of exceptional in the dictionary.)

Side note: As a lapsed fan, kinikilig ako na 2019 is actually the year of AlDub. Ang laki ng growth nina Alden and Maine as artists in their separate projects. Sana the rest will learn from this, risk on new material, and continue to explore outside of their standard love teams.

3. One of the things that I loved about this film was all of those moments of silence, not just to let us better understand Gali’s perspective, but also because we didn’t need an intrusive musical score to make us feel things in every poignant scene. The amount of restraint here considering that this was still a commercial local rom-com was truly commendable.

4. It was nice to be reminded that we should be grateful for things that we usually just take for granted. One of my pet peeves whenever I have food delivered at home would be the constant buzzing of the doorbell (because seriously, once or twice should suffice). And yet there are people in the world like Gali who wouldn’t even know that he had a package waiting outside his room because there was just no way to properly notify him. I guess it’s true that you will always meet someone who will definitely put things in perspective.

Speaking of, that entire Christmas lights concept turned me into a weeping mess. After exposing us to simple things that end up as major challenges faced by the Deaf community (Gali’s expressions said it all during that entire package fiasco), it was a joy to see him smile (and tear up) after Mara’s plan worked. Loved the callback on that one, too. That uber romantic slash heartbreaking scene involving a famous pop song and blinking lights would probably end up as my favorite moment in Philippine Cinema 2019.

(Plus points for completely wiping out the trauma of the use of Christmas lights in Stranger Things.)

5. It was amusing to watch the audience imitate and learn some basic phrases during the couple’s Sign Language 101 sessions. I mean, isn’t it great that we would all walk out of that theater knowing another way to say “Hello”, “Thank you”, and “Sorry” with the proper expressions and emotions? Of course if I were Mara, I would have asked Gali to teach me the most important words first (curse words, naturally!) because that’s a pre-requisite in every new language.

(Another side note: In college, I had a lot of Filipino-Chinese classmates from Xavier and they told me that the most important phrases to remember were “piao si di siao siao” and “di lanciao bin”. Surely I’m all prepped for that return visit to Shanghai.)

6. Sad facts: i) There are not enough Deaf schools in our country, ii) Most parents of Deaf kids do not know how to sign, iii) There are insensitive people in the world like Vangie Labalan’s character who referred to Gali as “di mo aakalain na may diperensya”. (Tawagin ulit ang Undin, please!!)

7. Burning questions:

• Whatever happened to Mara’s dreams of becoming an architect? Will she finally prep properly and take that exam seriously? Did her father (Cris Villanueva) roll up that tarp and keep for future use?

• Why didn’t we get a payoff on those sign language sessions? Is Mara’s niece still waiting for that special surprise?

• Is “Were you worried about me?” the newest pick-up line?

• How were they able to afford those condo units? And who do I need to call to replace our doorbell with blinking Christmas lights?

• With lines like “Puro de lata ang kinakain mo, magkaka-UTI ka!!”, is Mara’s mother (Lotlot de Leon) actually related to mine?

• What was that siomai stand doing in a party, aside from serving as product placement for SIOGO? (Sio clean! Sio good!)

• Gali literally jumping to Mara’s condo was a metaphor that he was taking a leap of faith on their relationship, yes?

• Will the LTO permanently suspend Mara’s license for being so accident-prone?

• “Mahal ba talaga natin yung jowa/asawa natin ngayon kung sino at ano siya, o minahal lang natin siya dahil lagi siyang nandiyan para sa atin?” (Require your significant other to answer this in less than five sentences.)

8. Ganda ng communication gaps shown throughout their love story. The use of cellphones in lieu of spoken words and signs (ang inspired nung text messages flashed between their condos), the times they both felt OP while in two different parties (although the Deaf crowd felt more welcoming, no? Well, except for that intrimidida girl), and the acceptance of their differences plus sacrifices they were both willing to make with that touching “Then I’ll be deaf for you” line. Wala talagang hadlang kapag mga puso na ang nag-uusap. ❤️

Rating: ★★★★☆

IMAGINE YOU & ME (Michael Tuviera, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Imagine You & Me:

1. Hi, I’m Json and I am a lapsed AlDub fan. (Hi, Json!) I joined the bandwagon right before a wall separated Alden and Yaya Dub in Kalyeserye and jumped off a little after their love team’s debut fizzled in My Bebe Love. Although I continued to receive updates from some die-hard friends, I was still pleasantly surprised to witness the newfound chemistry that they had been raving about. In this movie, AlDub had indeed moved on to being MaiChard and everything just felt right…and real.

2. Could someone explain Maine Mendoza’s appeal to the older crowd? Whenever I watched this type of rom-com, most of the shrieking would come from teenage girls (and directed at the male lead, like Daniel Padilla or James Reid), but I swear about half the people screaming and getting their fill of kilig in our screening were older women (even grandmothers!) rooting for Maine (as Gara). They could very well have been watching the newest Sampaguita or LVN picture.

3. I didn’t have high hopes when the movie started with “Sabi nila ang pag-ibig ay…” and then showed a montage of star-crossed lovers, especially since this quirky style and formula had been trademarked and more effectively used by Dan Villegas and Antoinette Jadaone, but the story progressed much better than expected (up until the dreary final moments).

The movie rested heavily on Maine’s tiny shoulders and she more than delivered, keeping the first thirty or so Alden-less minutes brisk, light, and fun to watch, whether she was getting dumped by her gay boyfriend, lamenting her supposedly cursed lovelife, or simply getting off her bike because the road was “matarik”. I probably laughed the most when she took a selfie with that pader (kasi wala naman talagang ganung pader sa Pilipinas haha!).

4. Elapsed time before the first advertisement: one minute-ish (Magnolia), probably the fastest one so far in recent memory. I wasn’t surprised to see a barrage of other products (including McDonald’s and O+) figure prominently in the story. In one scene where Alden Richards was supposedly drunk, I think there was even a hint of Bench underwear peeking under his jeans (or was I just too fixated on that area?).

5. I really liked how Alden (as Andrew) was always on the verge of tears in every scene (whenever he wasn’t being bugnutin). The movie was able to play on his strength as a dramatic actor and he could easily give John Lloyd Cruz (or even Judy Ann Santos) a run for best crier in local cinema. My favorite scene of his was the videoke session (“Wala ako sa kondisyon eh”, “Ano ‘to grand finals?”) ending with him crying over a sappy Tagalog love song. (Side note: Alden seems to be such a genuine person. I really get that strong vibe from him.)

6. “Mag-ingat ka sa mga lalaking mapuputi na ganyan. Mga pa-fall ang mga ‘yan.” – Kakai Bautista referring to…

(Yang tataaaaaaaa?)

7. There were so many gorgeous shots of Italy and I’m sure that a lot of people would start saving up just to experience grabbing the right breast of Juliet’s statue in Verona. (Hey, if I were to touch one again it might as well be for good luck.) I really liked that tracking shot that followed the pair going in and out of the adjacent rooms and veranda (overlooking a mountain view) with them barely missing each other.

8. Loved Jasmine Curtis-Smith since Transit and she was good here as the leukemia-stricken third party, but it felt like her character’s arc was unnecessary (besides, wouldn’t it have been more depressing if Gara was competing with a dead girl?). Actually, the entire dramatic third act including the last minute (out of nowhere) accident felt forced and didn’t earn the tears (similar to that rant of Gara after she was accused of stealing, “Oo mahirap lang ako…”; where did that come from, such a weird transition).

9. Carpool karaoke officially became a staple in local rom-coms. Although it was fun to see Gara sing April Boy Regino’s Di Ko Kayang Tanggapin, it was still hard to believe that Andrew would have that in his playlist. As one character said, “Makikilala mo ang isang tao sa song choices niya” and I could have sworn snobby Andrew was the Ed Sheeran type.

10. “Kaya naimbento ang glue, para kahit gaano kawasak ang isang bagay, pwede pa ring mabuo.” Sigh.

11. My favorite nods to AlDub:

• Gara during the car sing-along, “Eh sa gusto kong mag Dubsmash.” (Although it wasn’t technically a Dubsmash.)

• Gara asking, “Hindi ka nagulat na NBSB ako. Sinasabi mo bang panget ako?” (Wink wink, haters.)

• That Tamang Panahon reference.

• July 16, 2016 written on the lock that they left on Juliet’s wall (Happy anniversary! For real?).

12. If you’re a big believer of fate and destiny ala Romeo and Juliet (“Ang bawat coincidence ay nakatakda na”), then you would really enjoy this movie. I had my reservations since I belong in the “I create my own destiny” team.

13. Prepare your ears for that second sweet kiss (since the first happened while one of them was in a coma). You have been warned.

Also, this may not be a Marvel movie, but stay until the very end of the closing credits. Confirmed!!

Rating: ★★★☆☆