Another heartbroken man falls in love with another heartbroken woman in Dan Villegas’ Always Be My Maybe.
The formula’s there, as clear as day. In fact, there are hardly any attempts to hide it. Villegas diligently works with what he has, all within the limits of the tried-and-tested canvas of the feel-good rom-com genre.
Yet almost miraculously, he comes up with a film that feels boldly fresh despite the familiar turns its narrative conveniently takes to arrive at its predictably happy ending.
The heartaches that bind
Jake (Gerald Anderson), after years of being a carefree bachelor, is now ready to settle down. On the night that he proposes to his long-time girlfriend, he gets cruelly dumped.
Tintin (Arci Muñoz), a make-up artist who has been in an undefined relationship for years now, has just received a message from his beau about a meet-up.
Expecting that her lover will finally propose to her, she ends up alone in the restaurant where they are supposed to meet, realizing that the man who she thought loves her, is in love with another girl.
Jake and Tintin serendipitously meet in a beach resort six months after, where they form a quick affinity with each other through their shared failures in love. They become friends, and later on, after realizing they share something more than just recent heartaches, ambiguous lovers.
Thankfully, Always Be My Maybe is that clever romance that actually spends time and effort in establishing why its would-be lovers are perfect for each other. Given that Anderson and Muñoz are not a love team yet, Villegas and writers Patrick Valencia, Partee Brinas and Jancy Nicolas are left without the crutch of their leads having a heavily marketed, pre-existing compatibility, and are forced to create characters who aren’t just reiterations of a romantic fantasy.
The movie avoids the conventional conveniences of the genre and instead populate the film with delightful conversations and interactions. These showcase a romantic rapport that may be obvious to the audience, but is believably elusive to the two leads.
The film is actually most enjoyable when Jake and Tintin are carefully navigating their way into their untypical friendship, with Villegas setting up scenarios that mine charm and humor out of the duo’s cute uncertainty.
What is peculiar about Villegas’ movie is that it feels like it is targeted for men instead of women, who are the typical market for romances.
Sure, Muñoz’s character talks about make-up, connecting all the tips and techniques in beautifying oneself with coping with love. However, Always Be My Maybe also turns her character into some sort of male fantasy, a seductively beautiful woman who is unquestionably feminine but can get along with the boys.
Villegas has come up with the most interesting romances, perhaps because he injects into the commercial genre a perspective that is unusual and new. Without ruffling the formula too much, he infuses a defiantly masculine take on love stories.
English Only, Please (2014) still has the undeniable influence of its writer Antoinette Jadaone, with Villegas seemingly just there to skillfully execute an amiable story. It is his The Breakup Playlist (2015) and #Walang Forever (2015), however, which clearly showcase an observable and realistic affinity or sympathy to the concerns of its male characters.
At the very least, Villegas’ romances do not treat its male characters like blank objects of female desire and fantasy. Curiously, Always Be My Maybe, while intriguing because of Villegas’ distinctive treatment, has faults that stem from its interest to touch base with the male market the genre has alienated for so long.
In a quick and awkward shift in tone, the film inserts what should have been a sex scene that would result in the film’s primary conflict, but is essentially staged as a barren spectacle of simulated erotic gloss. The movie falters from there, and eventually embraces the formula up to the very last frame.
Enough to applaud
There is enough in Always Be My Maybe to applaud.
Villegas orchestrates the grooves of the movie without any of the artificial fanfare that usually plagues many commercial romances. Anderson is persuasive as the debonair but good-hearted lead. Muñoz, however, is impressive. She is the film’s crucial bid at levity. She handles both the comedic and dramatic parts of the film with startling ease.
While it stumbles towards its goal of providing its audience the pleasures of the typical rom-com, it also opens up the possibilities of what a supposedly weary and overused formula can produce if interpreted from the perspective of a filmmaker who does not bother surrendering to the creative complacency that pervades the industry. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ ‘Tirad Pass.’ Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios