‘Alone/Together’ review: #LizQuen play idealists in an imperfect world

Despite being built around the confines of a romance story, Antoinette Jadaone’s ‘Alone/Together‘ works best as a tale of self-actualization.

I couldn’t blame Black Sheep for choosing to market this film as a romance drama. After all, the so-called formula for box-office success includes having a ‘bankable cast’—and by local industry standards, that often translates to a love team with a huge following. But Alone/Together is much more than a love story designed to satiate fan service. It is strongest when it tackles themes on growth and self-rediscovery. That’s where my semi-frustration comes from. More than anything, I want the film to be an ode to those who are experiencing ‘quarter-life crisis,’ and less of a story of two rekindling old flames. Had the film owned more of its self-actualization arc, this would have turned out into something more unconventional, and possibly, a more affecting tale. Yet here we are, heading into this film, expecting for a love story when it only holds true in its façade.

Similar to what she did in Viva Films’ Never Not Love You, writer-director Antoinette Jadaone cleverly stages a budding relationship in such an efficient and organic manner: the plot skipping all the unnecessary tropes to keep everything lean and focused. What you just need to know is that Christine (Liza Soberano) is a UP Art Studies major who has big dreams of conquering the world. Her significant other, a UST Biology major, Raf (Enrique Gil), may not be as bright, but he also wants to tag along her journey. The two vows to stay together no matter what life throws at them. At which point, the film sets up a cornerstone; we are clearly witnessing a chapter of their lives where both are driven by fervent idealism.

University feels with Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil.

Once we are warmed up from the honeymoon phase, the film finally gets into the business of employing more of its somber tones. The first act appears to be just a huge chunk of flashbacks. Here’s the status quo: they’re no longer together.

Somewhere along the way, life got in the way. From then, the film adapts a non-linear storyline, much alike to Dan Villegas’ Exes Baggage  where its audience are fed with reasons why the ex-couple should get back together. Except Alone/Together does no such thing. Christine has grown cynic and settles for a life that’s limited by her past mistake. The film lays out a seemingly artificial conflict that contributed to the wedge of their relationship. It saves up a lot of time but as soon as the film gets down to its confrontational dramatic scenes (with which Soberano delivers such an unexpected amount of grace and maturity), they oddly feel tedious and bereft of emotional investment.

Sure enough, the eventual reunion has brought a surge of nostalgia to both of them, especially Christine. To her, Raf is more than just an estranged ex-lover. He’s a symbolism of her hopeful past, her forgotten dreams and her shattered ideals: an egging conscience that pushes her to take the leap of faith. So naturally, the heart finds a way despite both of them being committed to someone else. This leads to them having multiple spontaneous rendezvous and by then, this starts to feel like one of those films that romanticize cheating: a clichéd theme that most of us have grown tired of seeing by now.

By the time you hear JM De Guzman’s mainstream rendition of Rivermaya’s “214,” you are once again reminded of Star Cinema’s roots that adhere to a formula—evident to this latest work of their newest film production arm. Soundtrack-wise, the film should’ve stuck with the more thematically-fit, indie vibe sound of Eraserheads’ “Spoliarium.”

Two old flames, meet again. Enrique Gil and Liza Soberano in ‘Alone/Together.’

That being said, Alone/Together isn’t about cheating, although the film gives an impression of that. This is a tale of self-actualization. It just so happens that Christine’s journey is built around the confines of a romance story, with Raf as the catalyst. This film resonates to those who are hardwired with youthful optimism, only to be trampled by a dog-eat-dog world. To those who beat themselves up one failure after another, wondering what went wrong. Because as much as we’d like to deny it – we often view reality as a poor cousin of our dreams.

While the film occasionally gets bogged down by its sappy dialogue, it becomes more poignant and rewarding when it finally peels off its grim layers. Christine constantly reminds her art viewers to “never forget” but later on comes to a realization that ‘never forgetting’ does not necessarily mean ‘not moving on.’ She must find the strength to turn her life around. Thankfully, this film embraces the painful truths of reality without the excessive cynicism.

It helps that Soberano anchors the film with a compelling lead performance. One of her best scenes is when her character goes to The MET and sees a Van Gogh painting for the first time, her face turning from a world-weary expression to a vibrant one. Likewise, Gil delivers a good supporting performance, albeit to a lesser extent.

Alone/Together finds itself stuck in an awkward middleground of being a romantic drama and a character study, thereby its feminist resolution seems to pack less punch. Still, this is a film that offers plenty of value-added insights whether it comes to the pragmatic take on millennial relationships particularly on the perils associated from dating your boss, or the film’s admirable effort to promote patriotism without being too preachy.

In the end, Antoinette Jadaone’s mature sensibilities overpower whatever flaws the narrative has, making Alone/Together a relevant and profound cinematic viewing.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Directed and written by Antoinette Jadaone, ‘Alone/Together‘ stars Liza Soberano, Enrique Gil, Adrian Alandy, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Sylvia Sanchez, Nonie Buencamino, Mary Joy Apostol and Xia Vigor. Run time: 120 minutes.

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