'Never Not Love You' review: Work-love balance

“Shadow is overrated," Gio (James Reid), a graphic designer, tells Joanne (Nadine Lustre), a trainee at an ad agency, after being told that the titles in the poster he designed needs shadow to pop out.

Shadow is not overrated

Shadow, as proven by Antoinette Jadaone’s Never Not Love You, is in fact not overrated.

The film details the love story between Gio and Joanne, right when they first meet in the tattoo parlor Gio, a Filipino-American who makes a living out of freelance design work because he can afford to, frequents.

Joanne, who was there on an errand, is eventually egged by Gio to hitch a ride aboard his scooter so she could get back to her office and placate her demanding boss. She has ambitions driven by an obsession to make up for not graduating from a "top schools" and her parents’ financial needs. (READ: It's a different James Reid, Nadine Lustre in 'Never Not Love You')

So far so good

Never Not Love You doesn't stray from the romantic film formula.

Instead, it blurs the formula, using narrative not to arrive at a predictable end but to dissect the intricacies of a contemporary relationship.

Jadaone only filters the formula of its unnecessary ornaments, leaving a film that doesn't have the exaggerated highs and lows of conventional romantic film.

The film is so meticulously threadbare, it feels like its central love story belongs not in the realms of commercial entertainment but in the real world.

Gio and Joanna’s romance elegantly avoids sparks and spectacle, and instead relies on the melancholy of quickly rushing into love only to find out that as that love matures, it reaches not a pinnacle but a plateau. Despite that, it is still profoundly beautiful.

The shadow of Jadaone’s film does not involve third parties, or sudden deaths, or grandiose familial conflicts that many romances explore for lack of imagination.

The shadow of Never Not Love You is its insistence to belong in the world of its audience. Its shadow is the absence of light, or more accurately, the absence of escapist lightness.

The film can be seen as an ode to Makati, with its characters living life and finding love in the familiar streets and districts of the city that is known not for its being romantic but for its being the center of everything mundane.

However, Jadaone makes it work. She uses her intuition for turning the nondescript to magic and crafts lovely and gentle scenes out of everyday occurrences such as a nighttime conversation over instant ramen and cola in one of Legaspi Village’s many convenience stores or crossing Buendia or breezing through Ayala’s strangely gorgeous underpass.

TAKE IT EASY. Joanne (Nadine Lustre) is a trainee from an ad agency who works non-stop.

TAKE IT EASY. Joanne (Nadine Lustre) is a trainee from an ad agency who works non-stop.

Everything works

Everything works, even the nagging cliché of Joanne working for an ad agency or Gio being the talented kid who doesn’t know his worth.

Gio and Joanne could have had other professions. He could have been a filmmaker, with Joanne a struggling lawyer. He could have been nurse, with Joanne an actress.

What matters is that the film was able to communicate the jarring interests and the dilemmas that can force the relationship to mature within formula structures that are easy to comprehend.

It is also essential that Never Not Love You is headlined by Reid and Lustre.

UNLIKELY COUPLE. Gio (James Reid) courts Joanne (Nadine Lustre) after meeting her.

UNLIKELY COUPLE. Gio (James Reid) courts Joanne (Nadine Lustre) after meeting her.

With films like Andoy Ranay’s Diary ng Panget (2014) and Nuel Naval’s This Time (2016), the romantic duo, while struggling to find distinction in a marketplace where charismatic love teams are dime a dozen, has thrived and gained sizable renown peddling romantic fantasies.

Here, they are selling the idea that everything they have peddled in their past films are fallacies, that love doesn’t end with a kiss and a ballad – it ends with looks that mix uncertainty about the future and affection gathered from the past, and then a ballad.

Surprisingly, they are even more believable here than in their other saccharine works.

Grounded romance

Never Not Love You is Jadaone’s most grounded romance.

It is subtle but the emotions it manages to evoke are loud and enduring.

There are parts that are quietly poignant, such as when Gio and Joanne have to rely on videocalls to sustain their affection with Jadaone showing exactly what they see: pixelated faces at the mercy of unreliable internet as opposed to the ordinary gloss of a commercial romance. It revels in the anxiety of young lovers, in that steady but sure turn from hasty romance to compromise.

In a way, Never Not Love You inhabits that world of uncertainty that most Filipino youth find themselves in.

Its characters navigate their way around a life where romantic aspirations and banal reality need to converge. The film appreciates more familiar and common conflict and revolves itself around that search for balance rather than the search for that fairy tale-happy ending. – 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.