‘The Breakup Playlist’ Review: Hitting the right notes

MANILA, Philippines – The opening of Dan Villegas’ The Breakup Playlist is atypical of a Star Cinema-produced romance. Gone are the predictable voiceovers that detail the specific facet of love that will be the theme of the film.

Instead, we hear and eventually see a couple, Gino (Piolo Pascual) and Trixie (Sarah Geronimo), in the middle of a heated argument, one that will eventually end in an abrupt separation. (WATCH: Piolo Pascual, Sarah Geronimo in ‘Breakup Playlist’ trailer)

Gone also is the saccharine and usually manipulative musical score that needlessly foreshadows the escapist nature of most romantic films. The very first instance of music here only happens right after the devastating breakup, where the boy, now onstage, is struggling through a heartfelt ballad while his very recent ex-girlfriend, teary-eyed and on the verge of surrender, watches on.

Both former lovers are clearly heartbroken, scarred by a breakup that the film has yet to explore.

Breaking the formula

TANDEM. Piolo and Sarah G in their first movie project. Screengrab from YouTube

TANDEM. Piolo and Sarah G in their first movie project.

Screengrab from YouTube

The Breakup Playlist is one fascinating experiment, hiding in the garb of a traditionally crafted romance. Backdropped against all the other market-driven love stories its studio has been producing recently, it feels strangely out of place despite how adamantly familiar its plot is. The film still dwells on the story of a boy and a girl who fall in love, fall out of love, and reunite just before the end credits roll.

However, it is structured in a way that the elements of the formula are broken down. The film starts with the breakup, continues 3 years after with the ex-lovers’ awkward reunion, before diving straight into the colorful history of the ill-fated romance.

In a way, by revealing very early on the pain and eventual angst of its protagonists, the film does away with its reliance on plot and instead concentrates on gestures and signals that magnify emotions. 

 

Villegas concentrates on peppering his scenes with lovely details that portray the bliss of falling in love. In doing so, he adds weight and substance to the eventual separation, displaying how something so seemingly perfect can degrade into something so tarnished and painful. In other words, the film’s characters do not come off as fictional trifles. Their joy, sadness, and anger are properly motivated. 

Glossed over gloss

MUSIC SCENE. Trixie performs during the group's gig. Screengrab form YouTube

MUSIC SCENE. Trixie performs during the group's gig.

Screengrab form YouTube

Villegas, who also serves as the film’s cinematographer, keeps his visuals consistent with the sober atmosphere he has employed. The Breakup Playlist does away with gloss. Instead, the film features more muted colors. The restraint exercised by Villegas is truly commendable, considering that even in the film’s most jovial sequences, he is able to maintain a very dignified aesthetic, one that does not kowtow to the requirement of looking like a page from a teenybopper magazine.

The film has humor, but of a kind that is different from most romantic comedies. The jokes are less situational, and more grounded on the personalities of the characters and the subculture they exist within.

The sidekicks (Anna Luna, Badjie Mortiz, Teddy Corpuz) do not feel like empty fillers who are only there to deliver a punchline or two. Instead, they function to truly complete the characters of the film’s two protagonists by adding an amiable but believable social dimension to their love story.

SWEET GESTURES. Gino gives Trixie a rose. Screengrab from YouTube

SWEET GESTURES. Gino gives Trixie a rose.

Screengrab from YouTube

There’s a certain tenderness in the portrayal of Trixie’s family that adds a worthwhile complexity to the romantic relationship. The dynamics of the family are beautifully nuanced. Antoinette Jadaone writes the mother (Rio Locsin) as stern and strict, with the father (Dennis Padilla), seemingly a spineless clown. In one scene that speaks buckets as to how Jadaone understands the typical Filipino family, the patriarch surprisingly breaks out of his shell at the instance of disrespect from Trixie. 

The road to happiness

HEARTBREAK. Trixie cries after breaking up with Gino. Screengrab from YouTube

HEARTBREAK. Trixie cries after breaking up with Gino.

Screengrab from YouTube

The Breakup Playlist however breaks apart in its quest for a happy ending. Villegas and Jadaone expertly lay down the foundations of the breakup but sadly rely on convolutions for the reunion. This is where the film feels unsure as to which direction it wants to go. This is where it sort of surrenders to the conveniences of formula, where the narrative treads grounds that teeter towards the mawkish.

Nevertheless, Villegas has crafted a film that is mature in its portrayal of a love gone wrong even if its portrayal of that love going right is a bit rushed. The Breakup Playlist has Pascual and Geronimo be stripped of their usual glamour to inhabit roles that require more than just pretty faces. (READ: Sarah Geronimo, Piolo Pascual share what's on their breakup playlist)

HUGOT LINES. Trixie tells Gino 'huwag mo na akong patayin ulit.' Screengrab from YouTube

HUGOT LINES. Trixie tells Gino 'huwag mo na akong patayin ulit.

' Screengrab from YouTube

The Breakup Playlist is a film that juggles commercial demands with the impulse for creative change. Sure, it may not be perfect, it may not dent the system or cause a revolution, but the film, with all its heart and soul in all the right places, is proof that even in the much maligned arena of escapist entertainment, there is hope. There is substance. – 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