Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)


Stock broker during the day and insomniac by night, Sid (Dingdong Dantes) frequents a 24-hour café to kill time. There he meets Aya (Anne Curtis), a working girl juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet. After breaking the ice, the two engage in a business relationship: He pays her a thousand pesos per hour and she keeps him company in return. As they spend more paid time together they get to know one another better. He tells her about his open relationship with his girlfriend Dani and how he screws people over for a living. She shares her familial frustrations as well as her plan to go to Japan to convince her mother to finally come back home. As time goes by, what starts off as transactional becomes platonic, and eventually turns romantic. But as they insist, this is not a love story. Or is it, really?

The film is dark, literally dark. It's not that most of the scenes are shot at nighttime, it's just that the cinematography seems to be setting the mood for a gloomy vibe. It's always a good thing when you can delve into the mindset of a character by virtue of what you hear or see onscreen. In this case, it feels more like seeing the world from the lens of an unhappy insomniac in search for purpose in life, or a street-smart breadwinner who keeps up with routine for the sake of her family. Maybe that's what makes Sid and Aya such relatable characters after all. They just feel so familiar.

Curtis has played this role before so there really is nothing new to praise. She clearly excels in woman of the world roles and you'd like to think that seeing her as an optimistic breadwinner will be too much of a stretch. But she pulls off her character with just the right amount of panache, neither too flamboyant nor detached. It is Dantes who shines in this narrative. He does not seem to have a long filmography, even more so after GMA Films stopped producing romantic comedies. It's a good thing that he is allowed to do movies outside of his home network. Given the chance to take on other roles that are outside of his comfort zone, we get to see him evolve as an actor. Sid has to be his most interesting role yet, the embodiment of the older millennial still trying to make sense of a world he abhors.

Some similarities remind you of other local movies such as: Glaiza de Castro's Sleepless, which also deals with insomnia and the numbing effects of daily routine; Kita Kita, because of the Japan scenes; and to some extent, Meet Me in St. Gallen, in terms of plot development. Whatever similarity there is must be purely incidental, or perhaps the country's romantic comedies are just in the midst of a paradigm shift, favoring narratives that focus more on internal struggles and reflective dialogue in lieu of the more formulaic mainstream style that gives more emphasis on flashy execution and fan service. It's as though mainstream is slowly becoming indie, and we just can't decide yet if it's good or bad.

In the end the important question is whether mainstream audiences are ready for this kind of storytelling. While this theory is debatable, one cannot disregard how this new brand of realism in the genre is raking in some decent amount of cash at the box office. Sure, Curtis and Dantes are not unfamiliar faces that people will be fine not to watch, but they are not your go-to actors when it comes to romantic comedies either, given how the genre is dominated by younger love teams who benefit from a more solid fan base. Whatever the case, it's a welcome change. At least now we are seeing more movies that are driven by their story instead of the faces you see on the poster.

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