Monday, February 9, 2015

That Thing Called Tadhana

Where do broken hearts go, can they find their way home? Perhaps the better question is do they have enough baggage allowance to even board the plane. Mace (Angelica Panganiban) struggles to get rid of all the extra weight preventing her from getting on her plane back to Manila from Rome. Good Samaritan Anthony (JM de Guzman) offers to help, a gesture which serves as the beginning of an unlikely friendship between the two. She has just broken up with her boyfriend of eight years, while he has just posthumously fulfilled his mother’s wish for them to visit the Coliseum. But she just could not move on from the pain of a broken heart. What starts as a melodramatic One More Chance marathon on the plane extends to an impromptu lunch date in a Japanese restaurant, until she manages to convince him to go through the whole process of moving on with her: belting it all out at a Karaoke bar, traveling to Baguio, and eventually ending up finding herself in Sagada. He begins to fall forher, but could mere attraction really turn into something palpable for two people who have just met?

A lot of good things have already been said about this movie, thanks in part to the cult following it has gained through its limited release last year. That the mainstream audience actually ended up seeing this in droves and raving about it on social media is quite a bit of a surprise, taking into consideration the fact that this is not our typical rom-com, and does its best to veer away from the formulaic path mainstream breakup movies tend to follow.

You see, in the Philippines, it is not usually a good rom-com if it is not directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina, does not have a support cast of best friends whose only task in life is to comment on the dilemma faced by the lead characters, and does not have the gimmicky script which makes everything seem distant and unreal. That Thing Called Tadhana avoids all that, and still succeeds despite not being formulaic.

Perhaps it has something to do with the conversations that Mace and Anthony share, as well as their constant movement from one place to another. Could you really go wrong with a witty screenplay and breathtaking cinematography that just begs you to look and not take your eyes of the screen? You see what I did there? In reality, people will argue that they are watching this because they could relate. Besides, is there any other life experience apart from breaking up to which people would most likely readily relate? The thing is, that is probably just what they think they liked about the movie, but what truly beckons you to watch and listen for an hour and a half is the straightforwardness of it all.

There has been a shift of appreciation lately towards strong, feisty and to some extent, crass leading women who are not afraid to speak their minds and spew profanity more than a potty-mouthed sailor could ever wish he could. But beneath all the colorful dialogue, it is probably the no nonsense truth delivered with such panache that gets you as a moviegoer. This is, after all, an indie film.

The producers are not constrained by the burden of protecting their matinee idols’ image, which results in a more natural and free flowing discussion of certain realities in life, an experience that one too many individuals could have already gone through. When you hear Mace punctuate every rant with vulgarity, or Anthony refuse to sugarcoat the truth, you do not see Panganiban or de Guzman anymore, but rather one of the many brokenhearted friends or frank BFFs that you actually do have in your everyday reality.

This is probably Panganiban’s genuine performance to date, and the awards she has already won and yet to win already speak volumes. Often associated with daring as well as “bida-kontrabida” roles, it is surprisingly pleasant to see her tackle a character basking in her very own vulnerability, without a single attempt to be either larger than life or iconic. As for de Guzman, he gets to use his character’s silent demeanor to his advantage, offering a not so attention-grabbing portrayal, yet poignant when needed be.

This film is not perfect, and the high rating is merely indicative of the satisfaction you can derive from the whole experience. This is, so far, one of the more enjoyable movies you would see this year. And yes, you might end up playing Whitney Houston’s Where Do Broken Hearts Go over and over again on YouTube when you get home. You have been warned.

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