A stillborn rom-com

The Philippine Star

Film review: NBSB

MANILA, Philippines - After watching No Boyfriend Since Birth (NBSB), I felt like the paella chef who used all the complete ingredients for the dish, but after cooking, produced lugaw instead, a watered-down version of the original intention.

And it is not because it has that “same old, same old” plotline that has been used and abused since time out of mind in the film industry: English Only Please is quite possibly the local Gold Standard insofar as demonstrating what freshness can be begotten out of the “boy-meets-girl” cliché. Nor is the direction to be blamed. Jose Javier Reyes was his usual competent self and he has come out with a film that is visually appealing and well-crafted. But even the finest chef can only do so much with subpar ingredients. The plot is thin and shopworn, the characterization one-dimensional. Differently stated, the writing made no attempt to rejuvenate what was already done before. And one of the protagonists’ utter lack of acting ability does not help it any.

To be sure, all the romantic comedy tropes are present: Sympathetic female lead, her hunky love interest, the third wheel, best friend cum comedy relief, and an antagonist in the form of the leading lady’s boss straight from the deepest recesses of Dante’s Inferno.

Carla Abellana plays Karina, the executive assistant of top wedding planner Miss M (played with typical panache by Mylene Dizon), who daily endures verbal abuse from her mistress for shortcomings real or sometimes imaginary. She has a gay best friend (Ricci Chan as Glen), whose only purpose as a plot device in the film appears to be as foil to Carla’s one-liners. Loveless since birth (as the movie title states), Karina pines for a high-school crush she has lost touch with — Carlo — played by Tom Rodriguez. Working on the impending wedding of another high school classmate Hannah (Bangs Garcia), she is reunited with Carlo, and the movie is all about how they play out a protracted and seemingly unrequited love “affair.”

The movie tries to create romantic tension by tracking the evolution of affections between Karina and Carlo, as they interact — first, as awkward former classmates, then as business partners, and later, as a reluctant couple as Karina professes her deep and abiding love for Carlo dating back to high school. Conflict arises in the Second Act as Carlo appears ambivalent about Karina’s desire to be more than friends, but is resolved painlessly in the Final Act in the “happy ending” norm customary in Philippine romantic cinema.

Ultimately, what ruins the movie is the tepid and flat storytelling. As I’ve said, I believe this to be no fault of the director, but rather that of the scriptwriter, Noreen Capili, who seemed to have forgotten that she was writing for a full-length feature movie, not a Wattpad episode. Verily, the movie proceeds like a Wattpad television series converted rather clumsily into a movie: The dialogue is forced and hackneyed, the pacing monotonous, and there are no real peaks and valleys. Not even a surprise plot twist in the Third Act, which I admit I did not see coming in spite of the film’s total predictability, could save it from its tedium. One could edit the film into a half-hour without any significant loss of narrative element.

The saving grace is, of course, Carla, who plays her character deftly and with just the right amount of cluelessness and empathy spot-on for a character that has never been in the throes of love. Mylene’s Mimi, as expected, delivers as the boss bitch who may have just the right bit of sympathy for Karina. But cancelling them out are Ricci, whose acting mannerisms and over-the-top portrayal are distracting; and then, OMG, there’s Tom — who showed much promise in My Husband’s Lover — making Aljur Abrenica look like Al Pacino in the acting department. I do not know what Tom has been taking during filming, but in all — and I mean ALL — of his scenes, his acting consisted of showing his teeth, displaying his dimple, either grimacing or smiling (as the case may be) and saying “he, he, he,” totally oblivious to the emotional demands of the particular scene. Kermit the Frog has been known to show more expressive range.

In the end, craftsman-like and beautifully photographed, NBSB was largely unsatisfying. For a rom-com, it was neither romantic nor funny. Unfortunately for my friend direk Joey, whose 24/7 In Love was an outstanding entry in the genre, NBSB will be considered as another stillbirth rom-com.













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