Antoinette Jadaone’s ‘Never Not Love You’ is her bravest and most nuanced work to date. It paints a realistic portrait of love – the euphoria, the sorrow and everything in between.
For the most part, Never Not Love You keeps its leads, Joanne and Gio, exchanging three magical words that we all know too well: “I love you.” Somehow, it never feels contrived nor redundant because those words have a growing definition at each phase of their relationship. The first time they said it could possibly mean “I really like where this is going” as opposed to saying it again after months or years of being together which could be somewhere from “You’re important to me” to “Life gets in the way, but we’ll work it out.” Well, I’m sure you get the point. Those three words essentially lay out the film’s framework. NNLY paints a realistic portrait of love – the euphoria, the sorrow and everything in between. It does not beg to be understood; it just plays out the way it should be in real life with viewers coming up with their own realizations. It makes your usual romcom look hyped and calculated.
By all means, NNLY is an “ordinary” romance drama that works. We are presented with a lovestruck couple in their early 20s: Joanne (Nadine Lustre), a hardworking aspiring brand manager and Gio (James Reid), a carefree graphic artist. The film initially captures the giddiness of young love but as soon as real-life tensions materialize, it loses the sugar rush and transcends into a more mature and interesting dynamic. It’s nice to have a whole life planned ahead of you, with your significant other in the picture. But what happens if you choose the wrong life and get stuck with it? This dilemma dawns on Joanne as she gives up her career to follow Gio in London. She’s afraid of losing him that she starts to lose herself in the process.
The central conflict might seem like a cliche case of pursuing self-growth versus maintaining a harmonious relationship but the film goes beyond that. Life changes us and the people we love and we may not be too accepting of each one’s new version. Gio points out that she misses the old Joanne, the wide-eyed girl whose world revolves around him but ironically, he’s also not the same person as before. Both have different life philosophies and as the film progresses they manage to re-shape each other’s perspective.
The subject of long-distance relationship has also been tackled and it is anything but rosy. If anything else, the story of Gio and Joanne resonates to the couples who try their best to find a reason to stay in a relationship despite having lost the “magic” of it. The film thrives best in the long stares and silences of its characters, as they go through their moments of introspection.
It sure helps a lot to have a popular real-life couple play the leads and at the same time, it is refreshing to see them in a different light, devoid of any usual antics that make their die-hard fans squeal with “kilig.” They reportedly improvised a lot of the dialogue, which explains why it sounds so natural. Reid works his bad boy charm and Lustre effectively displays an array of mixed emotions. Admittedly, this is the first JaDine film that I saw and from the looks of it, these breakout roles only serve as a prelude to the bolder and more unconventional roles to come.
Mycko David’s cinematography permeates with warmth especially on the scenes taken at the Squid Ink. Neon lights make everything look, dare I say it, sexy. As for director Antoinette Jadaone, this is her bravest and most nuanced work to date. The third act could have been compressed tighter and thereby end with a stronger finish but without spoiling anything, I am fine with the hint of ambiguity in its ending. If you look at the bigger picture, everything is actually in there.
Clocking-in for just almost 100 minutes, Never Not Love You comes out as a fully-fleshed love story of Gio and Joanne, an unpretentious take on young and reckless love, a raw experience on the joys and pains in committing to a relationship. Nothing worth having comes easy.
Never Not Love You is now showing on PH cinemas nationwide.
4 out of 5 stars