Romantic comedies involving two different fates colliding could easily go astray to the cliché route; not with the masterful hands of Antoinette Jadaone whose treatment to Love You to the Stars and Back is rich and heartfelt, it’s an instant classic.
Love You to the Stars and Back follows the road trip romance of Mika (Julia Barretto) and Caloy (Joshua Garcia) who started out as strangers, on the same path with different, yet somehow mutually exclusive purposes in life. The layers of romance, comedy, drama and metaphysical elements of existentialism are what made the film work solidly with surprising originality and two leads who carried the film with powerful commitment to their characters.
The greatest thing about the film is that it isn’t just a ‘cancer flick’. It deeply tackles how a human being copes with grief, despair, and eventually finds hope, compassion, contentment, and finally, sees the essence of happiness through faith, family and self-worth. From what I saw, the romance flavor comes secondary; throughout the film, we see two strangers pulling each other up during the darker times, and what was highlighted was their back stories written with so much soul and vivid emotions. Inevitably, of course, they are bound to fall in love — but that isn’t the main purpose of the film. It’s a reflection of a fight for life than a fight for love. Ultimately, we are taught that romance is not prerequisite to a joyous destination, neither it preaches that it is the only source of happiness. The film glows the beauty of life as a whole.
Jadaone’s language used in the film provides a poetic undertone that is so allegorical in a silently dark manner, particularly on how the film speaks about life and death. Death is represented through the imageries of the dark shadows of Mount Milagros, the spotlight-esque bolt from supposed UFOs (which was again, used on the final leg of the film) and of the alien abduction symbolism, starting from Mika’s mom (Carmina Villaroel) who had mentioned that she was already too sick, thus, aliens would be taking her soon. The metaphor is almost unheard-of, and it kept on leading to that eventual conquest: committing suicide on Mount Milagros. Several figurative scenes followed which support this claim: Mika explains how alien abduction brings you to the other side where there’s no pain or hardship, which strongly suggests afterlife; the final phone calls to their family members, as if bidding goodbye; the eerie, nonsensical chant which made absolutely no sense to anyone other than the two characters (which coincides that suicide doesn’t make any sense to anyone unless you’re the one committing it). A helicopter came, in which they both thought that it was already the arrival of the extra-terrestrials, a metaphor of almost seeing death right in the eye. Eventually, they decided to bail out. Why? Because you need to actually see death face to face for you to come to your senses and be rational with reality that suicide is not the answer. This scene was succeeded by them enumerating the things they still wanted to do in life, and soon realized that the ‘abduction of aliens’ is not an option. They fought for their lives, and they needed each other to come about with that realization.
Julia Barretto is laser focus in delivering a strong performance; it is commendable, but oftentimes it is too much. Everything’s just so loud and animated, particularly on the first half of the film. She plays a character that’s just not her — and I am a firm believer that acting is finding a character within you, and not outside of you. Unfortunately, it is very apparent that the witty, edgy, spontaneous, almost rebellious persona of Mika didn’t feel innate to Barretto. And since the character is someone far from her wheelhouse, she overly compensates by making everything so big and energetic. I appreciate her quiet moments in the film more. Her presence alone speaks volumes already, she doesn’t need anything extra. On a brighter note, I give her credits because it was as if her character was written to transfer the narrative’s energy to Garcia, and she has managed to do so without losing her own character’s shine.
The film is a Joshua Garcia show. Jadaone shows brilliance by working with the film’s biggest strength: showcasing the dramatic chops of Garcia. For a newcomer, it’s almost unbelievable to see how he transforms on screen, on different personas with different emotions: from the happy-go-lucky guy, to the suave romantic, to the desperate abandoned son, to the helplessly ill — everything is just seamlessly embodied into one humane character, with absolutely no vanity of any sort. He simply disappears as Caloy on film. Perhaps, one of the greatest performances delivered by a male actor on local cinema.
I have said this before and I shall say it again: I am not a fan of an entire song being played on the film’s conclusive scenes. It feels invasive to the entire art. It’s a commercial distraction that scenes with genuine emotions do not need. Scores will help; they provide that underlining reiteration of a particular emotion. I do not need to hear a singer’s voice outside of the film’s setting. That is just, however, a personal preference.
The overall experience of watching Love You to the Stars and Back has been a pleasant road trip of gorgeous cinematography; superbly written screenplay, with both intellect and heart; and two lead actors, whose chemistry doesn’t feel manufactured, giving memorable performances. I can see this film being a humble classic joining the ranks of timeless romcoms our Philippine cinema proudly parades.