#MMFF2016: Vince & Kath & James, and the Romantic Comedy that Works

The Vince and Kath text-serye took the internet by storm earlier last year. I unwittingly went along with the ride. At first, I dismissed it as something so cliché it was unbelievable. But then again, I almost – almost! – read through the entire thing.

In this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, the only big budget film to make the list is Star Cinema’s adaptation of this viral text-serye, Vince & Kath & James (VKJ). After Saving Sally, it was next on my list of must-watch films for this year’s festival. And so, I made time for the flick this afternoon.

shes-dating-the-gangster-official-posterIt really has been a long while since mainstream Philippine cinema has focused on the nostalgic and heartbreaking era of adolescence. I’m pretty sure She’s Dating the Gangster (which also hailed from a story that went viral online) was the last good one, and youth wasn’t even really the focus of that.

Neither was it the focus in VKJ, but damn can you feel it.

Star Cinema is known for its inescapable formula. Throw two attractive leads together. Build up their chemistry. Shower them with family issues, conflict. Make them up. Almost all Star Cinema productions have those elements squished in them. VKJ is not different.

Vince (Joshua Garcia) is a hardworking engineering student with a penchant for writing. He’s been hopelessly in love with his classmate, Kath (Julia Barretto). But, as Filipino as he is, he has no guts to say it. Instead, he operates a blog called #DaVinciQuotes, and relentlessly text messages her until she agrees to meet up with him. The latter one of his tactics was complicated with the involvement of James (Ronnie Alonte), his cousin, and basically his adoptive brother, whose family took him in when his mother refused to care for him. James, the star basketball player of their university, became attracted to Kath. And so, he asked for his ever-reliable, and perennially indebted cousin for help. Woo her through messages until she agrees to meet up with him, and then he’ll take care of the rest.

We all know that Vince and Kath are going to end up together, and watching them get there was a nice ride to tag along to. Watching them as interns having fun and bickering truly will truly illicit the same comment a co-worker of theirs spurted out, “Ganyang-ganyan nagkatuluyan ang lolo at lola ko.” (That’s exactly how my grandparents ended up together.)

There’s a reason why there is a tried and tested formula for romantic comedies, emaxresdefaultspecially ones involving the younger generation. It’s because it works, and VKJ proves that. And I just love how VKJ paid homage to what’s possibly the greatest romantic comedy Star Cinema has churned out in its decades of existence, Olivia Lamasan’s Got 2 Believe starring Julia’s aunt Claudine Barretto, and the late, great Rico Yan. I love how that heartbreaking moment of when Lorenz (Rico Yan) sees Toni (Claudine Barretto) waltz inside the surprise he had waiting for her only to be eclipsed by Perry (Dominic Ochoa) was alluded to by Vince, Kath, and James in a similar fashion.

 

What I didn’t like about VKJ was the family issues that plagued its heroes. I just couldn’t believe the insanity of their situation. Vince was living with his aunt and her family because his mother’s new husband cannot accept him. It happens everyday, but I just didn’t find it real. I ultimately found, though, that these back stories are absolutely essential. Kath would not have truly softened up to Vince had she not witnessed the fiasco that was his mother rejecting him. Kath would never have opened up her eyes to how much Vince cared for her had she not ran away upon her father’s return.

It was a good film, and perhaps that’s the reason they had let it join the ranks of this year’s MMFF. It was honest, as how movies should be. I fell in love with Joshua Garcia in the few minutes that I watched him portray a character on the screen. He reminded me so much of John Lloyd Cruz, and how earnest his characters would always be.

Two out of eight down for this year’s MMFF, and I don’t know if I still have the chance to catch anymore of them. Again, VKJ would not win any awards (and I believe it didn’t?), but it was a good watch. It made you feel good without killing your brain cells. It made you remember what it was like to be young and to feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, but still ultimately be very infatuated with your crush as though everything will cease to end if they did not look your way.

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Perhaps this is the start for Star Cinema. Maybe they’re going back to these kinds of movies – honest, heartbreaking, real. I sure hope so.

Why I Read This Book — a review on Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

It’s no longer only a matter of what you’re saying. It’s a matter of how you’re saying it.

 

Now that I have a lot of time on my hands, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. It’s the kind of reading I haven’t been able to do in such a long time (it’s a long story). It’s the kind of reading I enjoy. High school! Romance! Discovering yourself!

I’m technically no longer within the ‘young adult’ age bracket, but it’s always been my favorite genre back when I had a lot of time on my hands. And – don’t get mad! – I’m actually reading more of it during this time to improve on my own writing (another long story!). It’s been surprising me how fast I’ve been going through all of them. And, because of that, I thought – why not write reviews about them? Oh, you know you have a lot of feelings.

Well, I do. So bear with me.

I just put down Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up. I started reading it Friday night in the bookstore. And then, I started reading it every spare moment I had. On the commute to work, while waiting for my friends, on the loo…

So here are my thoughts about Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up (WWBU).

I’ve been looking at the hard copy of WWBU on bookstands for AGES. Now, I’ve finally been able to take it home.

danielhandler18thannuallatimesfestivaloiy77v0tkullI caught Daniel Handler at the 2014 LA Times’ Festival of Books, and I fangirled over him so hard even though I never read A Series of Unfortunate Events (I’m sorry!). I’m an aspiring writer. He was like a god to me.

If his name hadn’t been on the cover, I would’ve never thought that Daniel Handler – this big, fuzzy guy I saw on the stage – wrote this book, and I mean it in the best way possible.

The story is about Min Green, Ed Slaterton, and – you guessed it – why they broke up. The premise of it goes a little like this. Min has dropped a box filled with memorabilia from her relationship with Ed on his doorstep. Each of these has notes on them, explaining why they broke up.

9780316127257-whywebrokeup_zoomThe story is told from Min’s point of view. Her voice is very much like that of a teenager. Albeit, a slightly obsessed one. Visually, it wouldn’t be pleasing to read run-on sentences and a lot of repeated words, but that’s how a teenager thinks. As a teenager, I never thought so articulately like the protagonists of my favorite YA novels. And so, to read a story from Min’s point of view was quite refreshing to me.

There have been a lot of YA novels who have tried to piece together the answer to a question by presenting its readers with evidence to unpack. Right off the top of my head, I remember Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. With that being said, the premise wasn’t entirely new.

The story isn’t new either. Min’s this ‘different’ kind of girl who falls into a relationship with the stereotypical jock with a soft side. The last YA novel I read – literally just days before I picked up WWBU – had the same plotline. (It’s To All the Boys I Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han by the way, which I both loved) And I’ve read a dozen more YA novels with the same idea.

With so much already being said, it’s no longer only a matter of what you’re saying. It’s a matter of how you’re saying it.

I enjoyed WWBU because I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. I loved Min. I loved how she really wasn’t that different, and she really was just trying to find her place in this world. I knew from the very start that Al had feelings of her. It was obvious. It was a cliché. It was a trope. But that didn’t stop me from trying to bottle in all the feelings I had when Al tried to tell Min that.

Because the title of the book imposed it upon me, all throughout my experience of reading it, I kept asking myself, “So, why did they break up?” With every new chapter and every new item that passed by, I formed an idea in my head, and they kept being brought down.

I thought for sure that they would break up because they had sex, because Min just wasn’t ready. I also thought for a moment that they actually broke up because Min had feelings for Al. I didn’t want them to break up for the reasons that they really did.

Ed isn’t the best. He was a dick more than just a couple of times, and I liked that. I hated the idea YA novels have been trying to feed its readers for years. There are perfect guys out there. No. That’s just not true. Everyone has flaws, and Ed was full of them.

I honestly, honestly thought that he loved Min. But in the end, it was revealed – SPOILER ALERT! – that he was just a confused, horny teenager. Okay, maybe he cared for Min. But at the end of the day, they were both too young to know what love was. Hell, I’m still too young.

That revelation, though. It made everything ache. Reading through those few words Ed spurted out to defend himself after his secret’s been revealed made me go back to all those times he was charming, he was sweet. I felt like I was Min in that moment. I was deceived, and that was exactly what Daniel Handler wanted to make his audience feel.

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It’s a good read, I recommend it! Go along with the ride, and have your heart broken along with Min’s.

But I do wonder though – what else is there for YA novels? What else is there for YA romance?

I believe there is so much more. I would love to see a YA romance without a third party, without a love triangle. I would love to see one that embraces the reality of stereotypes rather than transcend them. I want a real YA romance. Because although this was very real – damn was Min’s heartbreak real – it wasn’t really. It was fiction.

No way would Ed read through everything Min wrote. I doubt he’d even look at it. And in all honesty, would a guy like Ed really look at a girl like Min?

We fawn over stories like these because of the likelihood of it happening in real life is very slim (but there is a possibility!). And so, I sincerely hope for a real contemporary YA romance. But until then, I’ll keep reading.

P.S. Kudos to Maira Kalman! I looked forward to every chapter because I knew a new illustration of hers would come along. And those flower petals? Falling and falling, page after page. It was magical.