A ‘Hows’ of mirrors

Ferdinand S. Topacio - The Philippine Star

Film review: The Hows Of Us

MANILA, Philippines — There is a scene early in this movie where Kathryn Bernardo’s character George looks longingly at his singer boyfriend, Daniel Padilla’s Primo, performing on stage, with George saying internally (and conveyed to the audience through a voice-over) that it was at that moment that she “believed…that he could be great.” But the promise was unfulfilled, and the celluloid romance goes south from then on.

That line should sum up Cathy Garcia-Molina’s latest film, The Hows Of Us. Indeed, there was a point when one could believe it could be great. The unconventional, non-linear storytelling augured as much, as did some powerful scenes, mostly during the first act. Alas, however, just like Primo, it was “a promise to the ear to be broken to the hope.”

The plot may be summarized in one paragraph: George and Primo were live-in lovers. He was an aspiring singer in a ragtag rock band; she dreamt of being a doctor. They move in together into an old house owned by George’s “auntie lola,” her presumably spinster grandmother’s sister. Taking a shine unto Primo, she encourages the arrangement and wills the old house to them both as co-owners. After she dies, the relationship becomes rocky as Primo’s attitude problem stunts his career, and George is forced to support him as well as her studies. One particularly bad night, George decides she has had enough, and after confronting Primo with a litany of where he has gone wrong and how she is “tired” of being his crutch, she angrily demands that he leaves. Which he does. For Italy, where his family is, as we later find out. That was told in flashback, however. The movie begins two years after with Primo, now back in the country, trying to move back to the old house he owns with George. She is vehemently resistant at first, but later they come into some sort of silly entente cordiale, involving, among other things, literally splitting the house in two with a wide masking tape delineating his and her respective portions. Now under the same roof, Primo tries to woo back the hesitant George. And that is the movie’s reason for being.

And so the movies goes. And like the Energizer bunny, it keeps going, and going, and going. For an almost-epic two hours as a matter-of-fact, unfolding a narrative that could have been told in half the time. Heavily hyped as the KathNiel loveteam’s first “mature” movie, it attempts to paint the two leads as people far away from their usual teenybopper portrayals. But then, what makes for a “mature” movie? Is it showing Daniel and Kathryn, who have previously always been depicted in chaste relationships, as living together premaritally? Is it the hitherto tweetums Kathryn  showing some skin? Or mayhap having the protagonists mouth some expletives? Or kiss each other on the lips on screen?

The answer is only partly a “yes.” For while the movie incorporates all those, and more, its pretense of being the movie for KathNiel’s transition into more adult roles is hampered by weak writing, a confusing narrative, ponderous pacing, plot points that take cliché to a whole new level, and a total lack of innovation that converted the promising take-off at the start into a Xiamen Air landing mishap worthy of a Senate inquiry. Aside from Daniel and Kathryn  playing two lovers who have cohabited, there is nothing to distinguish it from any of their previous offerings. In fact, Padilla’s “shower scene” is a rehash of the one from the last year’s KathNiel movie Can’t Help Falling In Love. Even the well-intentioned effort to use the old house as an allegory for the lovers’ state of relationship falls flat.

If there was any maturity at all in the movie, it came in the form of Kathryn’s acting. I have once said in my review of Pagpag (2013) that she showed promise. In this movie, I am pleasantly surprised to note that I was right. Exhibiting depth and nuance not seen in any of her previous outings, Kathryn acted up a storm, managing to carry, almost by her lonesome, the important dramatic scenes involving her and Daniel. The latter, on the other hand, appears to have reached the apogee of his acting abilities in Barcelona: A Love Untold (2016). Here, he again is Daniel Padilla playing to the hilt Daniel Padilla The Lovable Rogue, as he has done in all of his previous roles. As Kathryn deftly digs deep into her reservoir of emotions in the pivotal heavy scenes, Daniel reacts as he has in the past: with a monotonous mixture of barely-discernable empathy, bewilderment and a mocking sense of realization that things will end up well anyway. Daniel also needs to understand that one important item in an actor’s arsenal of abilities is to deliver one’s lines as if he had just thought of them at the moment, without looking like they have been memorized and rehearsed.

Cathy obviously tries to make the movie the best of both worlds: a fully-developed work to advance the promotional line that KathNiel has finally grown up, but at the same time a certified crowd-pleaser to pull in the tandem’s myriad fans. Judging from the gross figures from the opening week’s ticket sales, she has half-succeeded, at the expense of crafting a truly fine film that could have showcased the couple’s ripening into true artists.

To those who believed the publicity and trooped to the theaters to see a more grown-up KathNiel, this movie will disappoint. It is like a toddler pretending to be an adult, a twelve-year old girl wearing mommy’s gown and putting on her make-up. It gives the illusion of maturity while giving us a trite rom-com, a veritable house of mirrors.




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