‘Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)’ review: Dark truths on the economics of love

Irene Villamor’s Sid & Aya is a cynical yet refreshing take on romantic relationships where economics becomes the ruling philosophy and money becomes the currency of love.

Enough of the 500 Days of Summer gimmick; Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story) is a clear-cut love story. It should be pointed out for future films—that would plan to use the same reverse psychology technique—that even tragic love stories earn their right to be called a ‘love story’ too. It’s a minor nitpick that I personally disapprove of, from which the film nonetheless benefits. Its main purpose is to divert its audiences from the traditional confines of romance and put spotlight on its more pragmatic themes. It also works as a dark foreshadowing: a seldom occasion where viewers will know better than to root for its characters, but instead, anticipate how they will sabotage their story.

I’d like to think, however, that this adamant parenthetical subtitle is a voiced sentiment from its characters. The struggle for Sid and Aya throughout the film is to constantly remind themselves of the “deal” they got themselves into: a paid-for companionship (or whatever you like to call it, save for a romantic relationship). Sid (Dingdong Dantes) is an insomniac, a power-hungry stockbroker who believes that the world revolves around money. If he sees a sound investment, he immediately bets on it, even if it means poaching his friend’s client. He thrives in a cut-throat industry, but more than anything, his hinted troubled past ripples through his present-day turmoil. He lies wide awake at night with these accumulated demons looming over his head.

Sid is the perfect vehicle for the financial exploits of Aya (Anne Curtis), a hustling breadwinner who juggles multiple jobs: being a coffee shop waitress, a laundry clerk and an amusement park performer. She rarely gets sleep too, troubled not by conscience but by necessity. With an ailing father to support, money has always been a struggling endeavor to her. Hence, she takes on Sid’s unusual proposition of being his companion during the wee hours of morning, all for the extra income. The reason why Sid and Aya immediately clicked is because they both understand how the system works: demanding for someone’s affection is not love; it’s all part of the economics.

Come to think of it, Sid’s job offer is not as bizarre as it seems. Problematic people actually pay other people to share their problems with (e.g. psychologists). What the film does is simply pushing the concept into an unorthodox territory to prove a point that most, if not all, relationships adhere to a certain cost-benefit model. At one point Aya “upgrades” their relationship from companions to actual friends at an increased rate of 500 pesos per hour. It’s a brutally funny scene. Once you get the point, it has some dark truths on it.

What seems to be a harmless mutual symbiosis is blurred with intimacy and when two attractive people keep on seeing each other, sexual attraction is bound to happen. Not to mention, Sid and Aya’s transactional relationship operates on the unspoken rule of not falling in love with each other. They try their best to abide by this code. Technically speaking, Sid is the employer and Aya is his employee. Romantic relationships between a master and his servant is a touchy subject, especially if it’s tainted with financial gain. It’s the unheard “I love yous” that prove there are social boundaries that even romantic love can’t cross.

The development of the leads’ chemistry never feels dragging or rushed, a critical factor in duo-centric films. Dantes’ portrayal of an unsympathetic jerk and Curtis’ unapologetic pixie girl glues your undivided attention to the screen. He graciously lets her take the centerstage for most parts, while Curtis, almost feels ethereal in every frame even if clad in jeans and shirts. (At this point, I must mention the fangirls in the audience who are literally adoring her face every ten minutes or so.)

As seen from director Irene Villamor’s apparent fascination for coffee shop meet-cutes and fleeting romances, Sid & Aya follows the same narrative structure with her recently-released Meet Me in St. Gallen.

READ MORE: Movie review of Meet Me in St. Gallen

With Pao Orendain’s melancholic cinematography, Villamor takes you to a euphoria with an escapist story, and in the end brings you back to the harsh consequences of reality. For its third act, the film moves to Japan and we finally get to see the inspiration behind this film. The shots of Shibuya Crossing with pedestrians surging from different directions is a beating heart in itself. In the world’s busiest intersection, thousands of people run across each other every day, yet finding a connection still comes elusive because each one is preoccupied with their own lives. This reflects Sid’s desperate need for companionship to keep his sanity in check.

Sid & Aya (Not A Love Story) ends with loose subplots and unanswered questions, not fully committing to its own theme in its final moments. Still, as one of the most cynic and hedonistic love stories I’ve seen, this comes out as refreshing. It subtly uses economics as the ruling philosophy of love and money as its currency. There are costs and benefits in telling the truth and you can only risk what you’re willing to have—because love is scarce, volatile and irrational.

4.5 out of 5 stars

About Sid & Aya (Not A Love Story)

Sid is a man who suffers from insomnia. He meets a girl, Aya, and hires her to accompany him in his sleepless nights.

Distributed by Viva Films and N2 Productions, starring Anne Curtis and Dingdong Dantes. Written and directed Irene Emma Villamor.

Runtime: 94 minutes

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