The chemistry of Angelica Panganiban and Carlo Aquino adds volume to an otherwise lightweight conflict in Dan Villegas’ ‘Exes Baggage.’
Antoinette Jadaone’s That Thing Called Tadhana (2014) is another romcom that reminded us of an Angelica Panganiban character carrying excess baggage from a past relationship. As the first local film to find a sweet spot between romance and wanderlust, That Thing Called Tadhana relies on an unhurried, dialogue-driven story to liberate the genre from its tropes. Since then, the recent breed of Pinoy romcoms have followed suit, including that of Jadaone’s real life partner, Dan Villegas. Exes Baggage operates on the same level, minus the tourist destination. The outcome is a much simpler yet somehow lackluster story. And with that, we ask ourselves if this increasingly familiar trend starts to feel like a formula again.
Frankly, there’s nothing new in Exes Baggage. It’s a non-linear story of two exes who unexpectedly reunite after two years. Flashback to the night when they first met—likewise in a bar where both are reeling from their respective breakups. Pia (Angelica Panganiban) is a love warrior who vows to embrace pain if only to experience love once again, while Nix (Carlo Aquino) is a lonesome soul who’s dumped by his fiancée moments before their actual wedding. With both being on the same boat, the wounded individuals strike an instant connection. ‘Tadhana’ asks, ‘Where do broken hearts go?’ Well, in some cases, they flock together.
The film then starts unpacking the stages of their romantic relationship: the blossoming, the honeymoon and the eventual breakup phase. Granted that the film works on a jumping timeline, we get to see the fragments of their highs and lows. There are gratuitous semi-erotic love scenes (which are really pushing the boundary for a PG-rated film), as well as petty and annoying quarrels that otherwise feel very real. What the story lacks in originality, the universality of it makes up to resonate across different generations of viewers.
Villegas’ direction, along with the script of Dwein Baltazar (Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus), thrive in nuances—the entire history of each character is neither laid out through deeper flashbacks nor lengthy expositions, but rather reflected in their behavior. Pia’s insecurity stems from her accumulated heartbreaks. On the other hand, Nix’s indecisiveness comes from his lingering feelings for his ex, also named Dwein. The problem here is that when the film gets to suggest that it’s all about a rebound relationship, both characters are forced to do actions that are very much within their choice and control, had they taken the time to pause and reassess. If only the film gave a better progression to the conflict by dropping more of the negative symptoms earlier.
In the grand scheme of it, this flaw is outweighed by the tons of sincerity that this film radiates. It owes a lot to Panganiban and Aquino’s loose yet palpable chemistry. Known to most Pinoy viewers, the two are actually ex-lovers who became close friends. Reviving the love team in the showbiz context, where some fans may have an unhealthy obsession, will inevitably lead to a fervent prayer brigade for the two to get back together. The future is uncertain but for now, Exes Baggage is the closest ticket they’ll have to the “CarGel” off-screen history. Hence, whatever the script throws at them, they will sell it, and you better believe it. It’s a classic case of art imitating life.
That is not to discount the individual performances, which are great as well. Panganiban, as the flashier lead demands screen attention with her natural, flirty demeanor. Her deep understanding for her character elevates the material. On the contrary, Aquino has a subtler level of charm that is nevertheless commendable too. At one point, he foolishly sings and dances to Ben&Ben’s “Maybe The Night.” It’s an excellent and catchy song choice that remains integral to the story throughout. Apart from the reliable leads and the thoughtful soundtrack, the cinematography glues your eyes to the screen by framing dingy apartments and empty condo units to look exquisite and aesthetically pleasing.
Exes Baggage does not reveal new philosophical truths about moving on. Instead, it navigates on a familiar territory that most viewers will feel happily represented of. There’s no big moment of epiphany nor catharsis here; the shock waves of emotions are sent evenly throughout. As for its adherence to the new breed formula, the film justifies it with the amount of authenticity in display.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Dan Villegas and written by Dwein Baltazar, ‘Exes Baggage’ stars Angelica Panganiban, Carlo Aquino, Dionne Monsanto and Dino Pastrano with special participations of Joem Bascon and Coleen Garcia.
Run time: 104 minutes