'Can We Still Be Friends?' review: Gorgeous and affecting

In Sleepless (2015), Prime Cruz’s outstanding debut feature, we first see Gem, the film’s insomniac protagonist, wide awake and restless before she finally gives up on sleep to prepare for another night of work. The film ends with almost the same shot, but this time Gem closes her eyes, a gesture that assures the film’s audience that she will finally get her rest. 

In between the two frames is a loose narrative of Gem’s near-romance with a co-worker, set in a world of sleepless millennials and their tentative longings.

Navigating emotions

Like Sleepless, Prime Cruz’s 3rd feature Can We Still Be Friends? is bookended with almost identical frames. They're differentiated only by slight gestures that completely alter the mood of the scene and change what is essentially a conflict to the typical happy resolution expected of a Star Cinema production.

The film opens with Sam (Arci Munoz) and Diego (Gerald Anderson), who are obviously a romantic couple, sitting on a couch. Diego is busy enjoying a television show while Sam looks at Diego, her face changing from boredom to annoyance at his obliviousness to her wants. The film proceeds to present other scenes of their domestic life, showcasing how despite their differences, they still manage to patch things up and end each disagreement with tenuous happiness.

Written by Jen Chuansu, the film offers a story that is adamantly thin when it comes to surprises. Sam and Diego eventually break up, struggle through a post-breakup friendship, only to learn that they immensely love each other. The real meat of the film that is in between the unease and displeasure of the first frame and the contentment of the last is a series of nearly static scenes that navigate emotions from one end to another.

 

Munoz, who almost always fills up the screen with the personality of most of the characters she portrays, finally displays an affinity for subtlety here. Anderson fulfills the role of the imperfect but lovable ex with an ease that playing similarly situated characters in Jose Javier Reyes’ Till My Heartaches End (2010), Raz dela Torre’s Won’t Last a Day Without You (2011) and Dan Villegas’ How To Be Yours (2016) has granted him. 

Filling up the details

Cruz dutifully fills up the details.

He carefully designs each frame to enunciate the slightest of actions and signals, replacing what could have been barrages of weepy expositions with mostly quiet moments that are peppered with cute humor. The film subsists on situations that echo transitions in feelings and character traits – whether it be a promising first date with a possible lover or an awkward random encounter in a laundry shop. In a way, the film’s subtle abandonment of traditional rom-com storytelling tropes is worth lauding.

What ultimately burdens the film amid its untypical elegance and grace within the context of its more boisterous kin is that it all feels a little bit empty. 

Unlike Sleepless which similarly coursed its way through a path of nebulous moods and emotions but within the intriguing background of BPO life and its social repercussions, Can We Still Be Friends? seems bereft of a definite milieu that could have elevated the love story. 

Sure, it is evident that Sam and Diego are creatives, with Sam struggling to rise in the ranks in an ad agency and Diego still waiting for his big break as a freelance comic book artist. While the imagination that is required for them to be successful in their respective fields sometimes makes its way into their banter, it never really enriches their romance in a way that could have been slightly more profound. 

The film is undoubtedly pretty and somewhat affecting, but it sadly doesn’t evoke anything other than sentiment. 

Irresistible charm

Still, Can We Still Be Friends? has a charm that is irresistible.

It gorgeously meanders, focusing not on railroading the rom-com formula towards its predictable conclusion but on the moments that endear its audience to its characters and their fragile affairs. Its characters are fully formed. They act and react like real people in the middle of uncertain love, with both of them swimming in an ocean of insecurities, doubts, envies, jealousies, and mismatched longings. – 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.