Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olivia Lamasan's "Starting Over Again" - Delightful Grieving

Ginny’s (Toni Gonzaga) school girl crush on History professor Marco (Piolo Pascual) has turned relentless that she’s brazenly proposed to him at every opportunity she gets. But on the most unexpected time, when she’s been rejected to play the Virgin Mary for a school play, Marco finally accepts. Thus starts their unlikely love story. 

While Ginny dreams of bigger things, like taking her Master's degree in Barcelona (where her mother works and raises a new family), Marco seems content with his culinary hobby, refusing to even finish his special course. And like most romantic relationships, lovers start noticing the chipping off of gloss. Marco in fact reflects Ginny’s father’s passivity and lack of ambition, a few of the reasons that lead to the eventual separation of Ginny’s parents (Lito Pimentel and Yayo Aguila). When some ideals are tainted by brash realities, admiration quickly dissipates. Ginny learns to “unlove” Marco. So she flies to Barcelona effectively cutting off her relationship with Marco who's devastated by the absence of an acceptable explanation. How does one move on without much closure?

A few years later, Ginny unexpectedly receives a “letterlater” (a web-based mail pre-sent on a later date) from Marco three years from the past, fortuitously rekindling her affection to the heartbroken ex boyfriend. 

What’s more serendipitous? Ginny, now a successful architect specializing in restoration, gets an invitation to propose a design for a new restaurant owned by Marco, now a prosperous chef. Wasn't this the same ancestral house where their dreams of putting up a restaurant first started? What’s the catch? Is Marco the same guy who has hopelessly written the “letterlater” three years ago? Is Ginny really handed a second chance? Or was this a retaliatory ploy to get back at her? But life isn't a walk in the park. Marco, it turns out, has a new girl friend, the gorgeous pastry chef Patty (Iza Calzado) who “looks like the Virgin Mary” – a role that Ginny was once rejected for. And she is getting mixed signals from Marco. His longing is palpable when he gazes at her. What’s a girl to do? Should she pursue him again, like she once did? Has he moved on? Or was it time to start anew?

Director Olivia Lamasan presents a legitimate narrative dilemma that takes his audience on a compelling journey along with Ginny, Marco and Patty. It’s easy to get devoured by Lamasan's romantic maelstrom. While the film follows a template familiar in romantic comedies, the characters are deftly written. Moreover, each narrative element is masterfully pieced together.

Some narrative issues are in fact worth exploring and discussing, as when Ginny recognizes some of her father's loathsome traits in Marco. Once romance scratches the surface of reality, human frailties are revealed, exposing Marco's decrepitude. If a relationship is worth keeping, we eventually learn to accept the flaws. Otherwise, we leave.

The movie is told from the point of view of Ginny Tolentino that necessarily makes this vehicle Toni Ganzaga's who takes full advantage of the character's broad and livid gestures. In fact, some of the most delightful and slap-happy scenes involve her, i.e. Ginny and Marco's first concupiscent moment, a rollicking scene that shall be remembered with hilarity long after the movie has stopped screening in cinemas. Or when Marco gives her the run around from Taft to Alabang to San Juan to Tagaytay, braving through taxis, trains and traffic- on six-inch heels! Then there's the silly seduction scene by the ladder, and her falling into Marco's arms.

Unlike many Star Cinema romcoms, the quirky, albeit annoying extended families of our protagonists are featured minimally. There’s little exposition on Ginny’s separated parents or Marco’s folks and Lola (Liza Lorena). This allows the narrative to focus on its three central characters, allowing more flesh on their motivations and intentions. Let’s take the case of Ginny who possesses a consistent characterization. She’s the loud, unyielding, aggressive soul who finds ambition and talent sexy. When she detects a flicker of passivity in Marco, she loses interest. That, to me, is human nature. And what is cinema if not a character study blown up on celluloid. Even Marco and Patty are well sketched. This refulgent delineation of characters is tangible enough that when Patty refuses to be brazenfaced when verbally confronted by Ginny (the uncomfortable and climactic kitchen scene: "Palayain mo na si Marco"), we realized quite well that indeed some people carry such enviable dignity despite aggression - or grace under pressure.

Strong performances define this movie. Toni Gonzaga appears in her career’s best performance, thanks to a script that utilizes her thespic vulnerability, exquisitely infusing it with the flick’s comedic inclinations. Romantic comedies are her forte, and this is evident as she masterfully glides through with self deprecating charm. Piolo Pascual returns to form. He revives an easy deportment not seen in a while, but when it was time to pull out all the stops – as when Marco tries to stop Ginny’s taxi from taking her to the airport, he was brimming with empathy. When did we last see him this fetching? Eight long years ago in Joyce Bernal’s 2006 romcom, “Don’t Give Up On Us” (with Judy Anne Santos). Iza Calzado imbues Patty with adequate charisma that, at some point, we wished she would “get the boy”. Thanks mostly to a classy character excursion.

It is a curiosity though how Olivia Lamasan has outdone Cathy Garcia-Molina in the romcom genre. After all, Lamasan does dramas, not romcoms. If this were Molina’s film, there’s be sing-alongs at airports involving every living beings (including the ceiling repairmen); there'd be sun dances in the middle of a park or during a blustering rain; there'd be terpsichorean extravaganzas in gyms filled with fawning spectators, and all those cheesy, peanut-gallery tricks that may be amusing, but ultimately unrealistic. How did Lamasan outdo Molina? In what could be the decade’s most captivating epilogue, the film follows our crestfallen heroine as she rushes to a meeting: hailing a taxi, climbing a stair, meeting a new colleague, and shaking the hand of someone who could be her ticket to moving on! Genius!

Now tell me you're not inspired.

Piolo Pascual turns on the megawatt charm.
Toni Gonzaga: career best
When McDreamy becomes a local affair.
Iza Calzado as Patty: Killing with kindness.

Smiling their way to the bank.

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