With its lay of claim on the corniest of the many corny verses in the 1979 Styx hit Babe to christen its latest film, Star Cinema kills any existing expectation for anything else than unabashed mushiness from this film. Babe, I Love You, helmed by T.V. soap director Mae Czarina Cruz, tells the story of Nico Veneracion (Sam Milby), an architecture professor from an affluent family who unwittingly at first, but after a series of perspective-changing experiences, freely falls for Sasa Sanchez (Anne Curtis), a boisterous yet charming promo-girl. This derivative rich boy-poor girl romance gets the job of providing slight and momentary pleasures done without even trying, especially since the film has in its disposal the ingenious pairing of two impossibly good-looking real life ex-lovers who are currently two of the most bankable entertainers in the country.
It is therefore inevitable that much of the film is spent in exploiting its leads (the numerous scenes where Curtis is in a skimpy but still family-friendly bikinis; that scene inside the beach cabin where Milby gets to show-off his chiseled body) and their manufactured chemistry (the lovey-dovey line readings; and the scenarios that are ingeniously written in to result in bubbles of romantic fantasy). The first part of the film follows the two leads in their budding romantic relationship that redundantly seesaws back and forth from hate to love. As soon as Sasa sees Nico from across the bar, and everything starts to move slower and familiar intro of the Styx ballad starts to play to cinematically portray that funny feeling of love at first sight, the film sashays forward, gradually putting the pieces together for the expected happy ending.
So as Nico attempts to go about his life to the pleasure of his stubbornly stern mother (Laurice Guillen, who improves on the largely underwritten role with her satisfyingly subtle performance), Sasa's bombastic swagger and oftentimes unreasonable demands push him to stray from the path he had worked so hard on. These sufficiently cutesy episodes where their worlds abruptly meet resulting in various comedic situations make up for most of the film's light charms. However, when the film attempts to evolve these invested charms into actual romance or tinges of serious drama, it fails. The blame, I believe, cannot be directed towards the actors or any of the creative team who have managed to concoct a bubbly tale out of a rote idea. The blame falls on the policy decision of Star Cinema to keep things light, which is commercially logical (their films nowadays are made for entertainment and relaxation, not for art), but narratively faulty. Allow me to explain further.
Sasa's world, which comes alive at night when thirsty men go out to prowl for a quick fix from their day-to-day routine, is as colorful as the personality Curtis grants her character. Her mother (a delightful Tetchie Agbayani in an unfortunately very limited role) has spawned four children from four different fathers of different races. What results is a peculiar family of different hair, skin and faces. Yet despite that peculiarity, the family is as Filipino as they come, with mornings spent cacophonously with all of them lining up for the single bathroom as they one by one leave the house for their individual trips, and evenings are spent with all of them together, crowding in the small dining area and just enjoying what little there is to enjoy in their humbles lives. This is distinctly strange for Nico, whose life in his mansion-like has always been structured, predictable and dictated not by spontaneity but my rules and mores. These varying details, generously sprinkled throughout to film to maximize the drama, and enunciate the odds that the two would-be lovers would have to face.
It gets more complicated. Sasa's world is more than just her poverty and her job. It also involves the repercussions of her poverty and her decision to augment that poverty by peddling her good looks, which inevitably includes having slept with some of her customers (in the film, she slept with one of Nico's family friends). The film, at the very least, recognizes this reality, belatedly molding Sasa from innocent victim of third-world economic injustice to a self-aware participant in her own corruption. She is tainted, yet in true-to-fairy-tale fashion, she is granted a fantabulous hope that the newly-discovered pure (in cinematic terms) love would cure her, or at least motivate her to live to be worthy of that love. This will assuredly excite viewers who favor moralistic themes that connote an innate goodness that is easily redeemable if inadvertently lost.
The gravity of Sasa's infractions may be argued to be capable of being forgiven or forgotten (as opposed to Nico's own succinct argument in the film's lone serious dramatic moment, "You think it's that easy, just because it happened in the past?"), yet, even if such is forgiven or forgotten, it is simply ludicrous, at least in a world that is governed by real life logic, that a clean-enough slate, even with the weight of a well-earned university diploma, can possibly be achieved, and if so achieved, can result in the perfect fairy tale ending that the film would have its audience believe. Quite simply, the film lazily focused too much on bridging the classes and personalities of its lovers when it could and should have focused on bridging a man of personal and familial strict moral convictions and a woman whose morality has been compromised by a mixture of fate and choice.
But as I have said, the film's title says it all and to expect more is nothing more than a foolish endeavor (something I endeavored to do because these quixotic attempts to lay some sense to these capitalist film studios can be fun). In summary, it seems that in the film's critic-proof world, a world that exists within Star Cinema's own laws of physics and relationships, "love is a many-splendored thing," "love will keep us alive" and "all you need is love." Forgive me. I am just so overwhelmed with this power of love, that I can't help but sing.
Cross-published on The Lessons from the School of Inattention.