Cathy Garcia-Molina should be asking more ‘hows’ in adding fresh ideas to her romcom releases.
In The Hows of Us, two former flames are forced to live together in the same house that they once shared. But before main conflict completely plays out, a flashback montage is first shown. Wide-eyed dreamers Georgina (Kathryn Bernardo), a pre-med student, and Primo (Daniel Padilla), an aspiring musician, are former debate competitors who fall for each other. They eventually became conjugal owners of the said house bequeathed by their Tita Lola (Susan Africa). Sitting on a newly-purchased sofa, the couple plans their life ahead of them and vows to support each other no matter what.
And so Jo sticks to her promise and becomes the provider of the relationship. She tends to her studies and to her part-time job while Primo insists on performing gigs in pursuit of his passion. His big break never came and Jo gets overwhelmed with the responsibilities she has to shoulder, consequently failing to take her NMAT exam. Slowly but surely, the couple are headed to the path of being young, dumb and broke.
One stormy evening, Jo reaches her breaking point and lashes out on him. Feeling guilty, Primo asks her, “Do you want me gone? Will your life be better without me?” An exasperated Jo says “yes” and so he grants her wish and walks out of her life. Back to the present, she blames him for abandoning her during her most vulnerable moment. Apparently, she’s just tired and she doesn’t mean what she said. This is rather confusing.
The film is actually off to a solid start. The brisk sequence presents a full spectrum of a relationship gone sour – the blossoming of young love gradually evolving into an abusive relationship. The premise has plenty of mature themes for the leads to work on, such as practicality vs. passion and self-love vs. sacrifice to state some. It does not tread into new grounds but it’s relevant and relatable nonetheless.
By the time it gets back into the present, the film morphs into a typical romcom, hinting that a happy ending might be possible after all. Personally, I’m fine with any type of ending. What matters is ‘how’ the film gets there. And for a film that has the word ‘how’ on it, The Hows of Us fails to deliver the satisfying means and justification needed. Whatever seriousness the first act established, the tonal shift makes it look like they just had a lover’s quarrel.
This is mainly due to the film’s adherence to local romcom tropes. Primo wants George back and uses his irresistible charm in doing so. “Matagal na akong talo, simula nung hinayaan kong mawala ka,” he says and at one point, the two share a passionate kiss so die hards can have something to gush about. There are plenty of fan service scenes like this and you are generally inclined to root for them to get back just because they’re a love team.
Plotwise, it’s not entirely convincing. The film deprives us of Primo’s character development during the years of his absence and settles for an exposition from one of its characters. He has magically changed for the better, but his apparent lack of a stable job tells otherwise. He realizes that he’s been egotistical but self-awareness should not be enough to compensate what Jo gave up because of him. He sacrifices something valuable near the end but it still seems trivial.
If it’s a Garcia-Molina classic, you can often count a daddy issue from one of its main character’s family. In here, Jo’s brother Yohan (Darren Espanto) wishes to see his estranged father in Amsterdam. It’s a subplot that ties weakly to the main plot and it does not help that Espanto’s teen character is written with such level of annoying enthusiasm and naivete. The main reason for this side story is to take the leads to a sunset-draped flower field so they can go on speak some philosophical truths.
The Hows of Us is a fairly simple and earnest story made fluffy by a tried and tested formula. Garcia-Molina needs validation by resorting to tropes expected by the mainstream viewers. Acting-wise, Padilla feels natural and affecting with a restrained performance. Bernardo is fine as well but she has to work with dialogues that often require her to overact.
Not to instigate any fandom wars, but where Never Not Love You lets its leads take the lead with unscripted lines, The Hows of Us bears an uneven tone that ranges from absurdist romcom (Jo makes a division in their property using a masking tape) to overly dramatic (rain chase scenes). It stops feeling real. When are we going to acknowledge that people don’t act or behave that way in real life.
The general lack of nuance also turns off. It becomes preachy right until the credit scene where it spoonfeeds the message to the audience. And it’s not exactly the best thing that the film could’ve come up with. It could have ended with a strong message on independence and feminism but instead, it wants its viewers to hold on to the idea of staying in love and working together amid the history of an abusive relationship. That is not a comforting idea.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina, written by Carmi Raymundo and Juan Manuel Zubiri
Cast: Kathryn Bernardo, Daniel Padilla, Jean Garcia, Susan Africa, Alwyn Uytingco, Ria Atayde, Juan Miguel Severo, Odette Khan, Kit Thompson, Joross Gamboa, Ketchup Eusebio, Darren Espanto
Run time: 127 minutes