What carries the movie, though, are the palpable chemistry between the two leads (Dingdong Dantes and Anne Curtis), and their acting adeptness.
It is a love story
(The Philippine Star) - June 3, 2018 - 12:00am

Film review: Sid & Aya (Not A Love Story)

MANILA, Philippines — Make no mistake about it: Despite the disclaimer in its title that it is “not a love story,” Sid & Aya most definitely is one. It is just not that kind of love story.

The title characters are played by Dingdong Dantes and Anne Curtis, respectively, supposed to be poles apart. Sid is a hotshot stockbroker who makes big deals and drives around in a Maserati. Aya is a working girl always in need of money for her family and thus juggles three jobs.

Sid, in spite of the trappings of  success, including the favors of a society girlfriend (in a voiceover, his character declares that in the stock brokerage business, it’s not “just what you ride, but who you ride”), feels empty. Orphaned early, he feels he works for no one, and is prone to extended bouts of insomnia. It is in one of his nocturnal perambulations where he meets Aya, in a coffee shop where she works. She boldly strikes up a conversation with him to find out what kind of work he does in order to win a bet; he is soon taken by her quirky charms, and befriends her. In one of their idle chats, Sid offers her money to stay with him all night. Initially repelled by such an unorthodox request (“hindi ako pokpok!”), he clarifies that he only wants someone to talk to, and nothing else. Taking pity on someone so totally friendless that he would pay for company, and needing funds herself, she assents. And that, to paraphrase a line in Casablanca (1942), was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Or was it just that? The movie, unlike Lost In Translation (2003) or Before Sunrise (1995), is unambiguous. Sid falls in love with Aya, and vice-versa. As the plot unfolds via the two protagonists’ conversations, they become more and more emotionally drawn to each other. Sid finds out that Aya’s mother, who worked in Japan, abandoned her family 18 years ago and her father is chronically ill; she is, in a sense, an orphan like him. His ambition is to become one of the biggest stockbrokers in the country; hers, more modest: To join her mother in Japan, work for a few years and convince mom to reunite with her family. He has an “open” relationship with his girlfriend; she dumped her boyfriend preemptively when she felt his love for her growing cold.

Inevitably, they fall for each other and sleep together. She wakes up from the postcoital afterglow and whispers to him, “I love you.” But it was not meant to be for poor girl and rich boy. No roses and violins here, no Pretty Woman (1990). It was sort of what the Spanish would call un poco mas de amigos, un poco menos de amantes. A little more than friends, a little less than lovers.

The storyline is no great shakes. Not as minimalistic as a small slice-of-life movie would be wont to be, there are not a few plot holes and side stories that end up nowhere. For one, after being used to provide romantic conflict, Sid’s girlfriend Dani (played passably if generically by Bubbles Paraiso) suddenly evaporates without a trace in the third act. Considering that she and Sid were supposed to be engaged — with Sid planning a proposal and going to the extent of buying an expensive diamond ring — such unexplained disappearance is jarring. The developing subplot on insider trading was also discarded abruptly in the middle. Also, the subplot about Aya and her estranged mother did little to advance the main narrative. And the movie, gorgeously photographed and beautifully lighted, failed to fully take advantage of making Tokyo, where it was partly shot, an integral part of its atmosphere, something that the filmmaker put to good use in Lost In Translation.

What carries the movie, though, are the palpable chemistry between the two leads, and their acting adeptness. Dingdong was a delight to watch, totally natural and shedding all traces of the matinee idol acting mannerisms that used to hold him back. Anne, promising in In Your Eyes (2010) but horrid in A Secret Affair (2012), has shown much development as an actress. She has gotten down to a “T” the portrayal of a cynical, hard-nosed working class girl. The interactions between these two highly competent actors throwing lines at each other, and feeding off each other’s responses, are the highlights of the movie. The reaction of Anne when Sid tells Aya that he plans to propose to Dani — an amalgamation of regret, sadness, relief and self-justification — is a priceless piece of thespic art one should see over and over.

The thematic device of subtly using the stock market as a parallelism to the deepening attachment between the main characters is a stroke of genius. The film tries to tell us that like stocks, love is also an investment: That while you only get as much as you give, there are no “sure balls,” no guarantees, and that even if you give it your all, you may still lose it all. There is, after all, the “Black Swan,” as Sid tells Aya, borrowing the concept from Nassim Taleb’s book of the same title, an unforeseen event that changes everything. To the title characters, they are each other’s Black Swans.

Ending on an ambivalent note (is there a sequel in the offing, just like the Before trilogy?), Sid & Aya is a thoroughly enjoyable peek into the lives of two people who try to find solace in each other, notwithstanding their own demons. While the volume of I Love You’s being thrown around begs comparison with the earlier Never Not Love You (2018), there is a marked difference: Whereas NNLY used the different inflections of that phrase to track the evolution of the relationship between the two leads, here the phrase was used to bracket that relationship. True, there was love between Sid and Aya, but it was a love that knew its metes and bounds, a love that did not overreach, a love that just was. Indeed, a lovely love story.

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