movie reviews

‘An Inconvenient Love’ review: A movie that restores faith in the love team genre

Ryan Oquiza

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‘An Inconvenient Love’ review: A movie that restores faith in the love team genre

DONBELLE. Donny Pangilinan and Belle Mariano star in 'An Inconvenient Love.'

Screenshot from trailer

DonBelle's comeback recognizes that falling in love in the Philippines is comparable to turning on 'hard mode' in a video game

Two years ago, Star Cinema was in a different place. The ABS-CBN film studio responsible for love team pairings like KathNiel, LizQuen, and JaDine, most of which were box office hits, had been divorced from theater screenings due to the pandemic. 

Lost were the communal experiences that were usually second nature to romantic films, the screaming and serenading, the long lines of fan clubs with banners held up high, and the outpouring of laughter and tears as the big screen started rolling. 

Love teams have become lionized, larger-than-life, and with it comes the responsibility of crafting a story that feels attuned to the ever-changing environment of its viewers. After all, what’s the point if we are unable to see ourselves in our idols, relate to their hardships, and feel sympathy for their tragedies?

Fortunately, An Inconvenient Love restores faith in the love team genre. It recognizes that falling in love in the Philippines is comparable to turning on “hard mode” in a video game. But what’s unique is that it never succumbs to defeatism, opting to use DonBelle, and the love they represent, as a beacon of hope amidst deteriorating social and economic conditions.

Like K-pop groups, love teams usually have their storied histories. Donny Pangilinan and Belle Mariano officially made their onscreen debuts in 2020’s James and Pat and Dave. In Mariano’s brief role, she offered a handkerchief to a heartbroken Pangilinan in front of a beach fire while bathed by the starry night sky. 

This chance encounter would eventually be followed up by the hit digital series He’s Into Her, a high school romcom with the pair now claiming lead roles. Naturally, their success meant a movie starring the two was inevitable, which led to Love is Color Blind’s release on in December of 2021. The digital platform says that the film held the distinction of being the “Biggest Digital Premiere” at the time, an impressive feat considering its fully-online release.

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At the turn of 2022 and the subsequent loosening of restrictions, Star Cinema turned its eyes to its most tried and true formula for its cinema comeback. They’d be giving the keys to the next generation love team in DonBelle, as well as tapping independent director Petersen Vargas to steer the way in a momentous 30th anniversary for the studio.

The result? A gorgeous-looking film that places the intimacy between two lovers in contrast to the ruthless contradictions of the outside world. Ayef (Mariano) dreams of becoming a renowned animator outside of the country, while Manny (Pangilinan) dreams of unburdening himself from the shadow of his capitalist father. Their situations aren’t treated as mere foils to a blossoming romance; they are actions motivated by living in a hellish country like the Philippines.

Once it starts, you’d likely wonder if you entered the right theater. There’s an immediacy to the film, throwing you right into rallies, transportation hiccups, and the after-effects of worker retrenchments. The two writers, Daisy Cayanan and Joaquin Enrico Santos, make sure to establish the inklings of a restless situation to punctuate the forthcoming romance that will sweep the audience away.

And when Donny and Belle do meet, it’s as colorful and enchanting as you’d imagine. Sparks fly when Donny affectionately looks at Belle, seamlessly selling the lie that it’s the first time they’ve ever met onscreen. Sometimes, those sparks manifest themselves in actual physical bursts, breaking neon lights and discharging palpable chemistry triggered by a simple touch of hands. 

The use of animation (rendered adorably by 4nclru) is also meaningful for its close association with Ayef’s escapist fantasies. The film draws references from 500 Days of Summer and the vast romance collection of director Wong Kar-Wai to simulate what a teenager’s idea of love would look like, and of course, it’s filled with make pretends and slo-mo worthy moments (plus, a nice Fallen Angels reference in a motorcycle ride).

The supporting cast also mounts hefty performances, most notably from Epy Quizon and Matet de Leon as Ayef’s parents. Parental issues in love team films aren’t new, but they feel more pronounced here because of their link to Ayef and Manny’s dreams and the tangible economic crisis. Admittedly, I had felt the weight of the film’s money woes even before I saw it because I had to pay an eye-watering ₱341 for a ticket. Not that it entirely affected my experience, but it certainly helped me identify with the need to sacrifice ambitions in this bizarre state of inflation.

The heart of the film is Belle Mariano’s performance as Ayef. The Goin’ Bulilit alumna thrives in heavy moments that require subtle emotional pivots. In a tense scene with her co-lead, Mariano’s eyes fixate on Pangilinan’s even as the other parts of her face act against her. She allows herself to pause as her mouth quivers and her face trembles before ultimately letting go of a dagger that pierces deep into Manny’s heart. Her ability to say more with less is on full display. 

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On the other hand, Pangilinan shows his acting chops in scenes involving his absent mother (Teresa Loyzaga) and his abusive father (Tirso Cruz III). He brings an unbridled tenderness to his role, especially when paired with Dobs (JC Alcantara), his neurodivergent step-brother. Though Manny’s character comes off as a little too perfect up until the end, Pangilinan more than delivers in striking moments of self-doubt and vulnerability.

An Inconvenient Love has a lot of things going on in the background, and sometimes, they’re particularly urgent issues like worker’s rights, gaslighting boyfriends, mental health, and overseas migration. But the film, just like its protagonists, focuses on romance because it’s the fantasy that has been most effective in quelling their gloomy climate.

The mistake of Ayef and Manny wasn’t that they forced an inconvenient love, but that they made love contractual. Because in a country so hell-bent on contractualizing labor, politics, and relationships, it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine a love unstained by inconvenience.

However, because this is a Star Cinema film, Vargas ingeniously finds a way to have the lovers come to a compromise and to forward the notion that love can overcome obstacles and transform people. 

All of this crescendos in Donny and Belle’s final encounter, which has all the makings of a cheesy yet iconic rom-com moment that would make even Stray Kids fans swoon: “One-four-three, I love you.” –

An Inconvenient Love is now showing in cinemas nationwide. 

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is a film critic for Rappler and has contributed articles to CNN Philippines Life, Washington City Paper, and PhilSTAR Life.