The biggest problem of Enrico Santos' My Cactus Heart is that its protagonist, Sandy (Maja Salvador), the owner of the titular so-called cactus heart, is nothing more than a standard-issue rom-com dame, afflicted with issues brought about by familial troubles. Except for a montage where she supposedly breaks the hearts of her various suitors, her heart is evidently undeserving of the trying-too-hard-to-be-cute moniker. She is uninteresting, unconvincing, and unromantic. Salvador attempts to add color to the hopelessly color-less character by giving an authentically earnest performance, which only does so much. Sandy is just too lazily written, with issues too trite, and a resulting romance too dry to really matter.
Carlo (Matteo Guidicelli), Sandy's fated partner, is clearly the better half of the forced pairing. A persistent but luckless singer who finds himself employed as a waiter for the catering business of Sandy's mother (Rosanna Roces), Carlo has all the qualities of a charmingly hapless leading man. He is eager to please, armed with all the facial contortions, mannerisms, and quick wit to melt the hardest of hearts. Together, they form an unbalanced romantic team, more awkward than awe-inspiring. Consequently, the many romantic set-ups for which the film exists for are mostly misfires instead of successes.
Santos is obviously attempting to be innovative here. Unfortunately, innovation for Santos equates to corny and hollow spectacle. As a result, My Cactus Heart is a treasure trove of pointless gimmicks, from the painfully anemic animated introduction to the poorly conceived dialogue that aspires to be wittier than the average rom-com but miserably fails to be either funny or intelligent. Even the love triangle with bland business owner Benedict (Xian Lim) that the movie belatedly introduces seems to be a mere desperate attempt to inject some bit of excitement into the terminally tedious love story, and even that fails.
My Cactus Heart is the first film produced under the Skylight label of Star Cinema. Skylight, patterned after the supposed independent arms of major Hollywood studios like Fox Searchlight, seeks to tap the country's bustling independent film scene to reinvigorate the mainstream with new stories and new ways of storytelling. Unfortunately, with My Cactus Heart, it seems that the only function of the Skylight label is to again exploit the already severely exploited idea of going independent by equating it with filmmaking with clear budgetary restrictions and an added goal of providing movie vehicles for untested up and coming future movie stars.
My Cactus Heart, like its main character, is nothing more than a standard issue rom-com, a substandard product that needs a little bit more time in the factory before being released to the paying public. There may be little glimpses of real ingenuity in the filmmaking but every time these glimpses appear, they are quickly enveloped by a general lack of imagination or an institutional refusal to cross the line and to genuinely innovate, resulting in half-baked endeavors that are only pieces of clutter in a movie that doesn't really have anything worthwhile to say about love.
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