Review: May Czarina Cruz's EVERY BREATH U TAKE
One fateful Valentine's night, virginal Majoy (Angelica Panganiban), whose time-bound ovaries are severely in need of a suitable sperm donor lest they never be used again, meets Leo (Piolo Pascual), a bigshot real estate broker whose skill in wooing women can only be matched by his aversion to serious relationships, in the restaurant where she was supposed to meet her Valentine's date. Majoy's absentee date is Ji-soon (Ryan Bang), a hopelessly romantic Korean man whose long-awaited and probably well-deserved opportunity to prove his love to Majoy was foiled when on the night of their first date, his car crashes into another car, which just so happens to be driven by the eldest brother (Smokey Manoloto) of Leo's latest scorned sexual conquest (Wendy Valdez), who, in a streak of post-break-up insanity, contracts the rest of his male siblings (Joross Gamboa and Carlos Agassi) to do everything they can to force Leo back so that they can be wed.
Every Breath U Take is more a carefree screwball than a careless rom-com. Since Star Cinema has cornered the Philippine market with its generic romances that offer a dash of humor and a sliver of drama, it has always been careful in maintaining the formula of unbelievably pretty protagonists, played by actors and actresses who are marketed as love teams, with particular backstories suddenly confronted with the utmost dilemma of falling in love with each other. Thankfully, the film courageously skips key elements of the formula to inject an internal logic of well-timed guffaws and out-of-this world coincidences that are not only unbelievable and farfetched but also fittingly entertaining.
In the film, the characters do fall in love, yet that brand of love they profess is hardly the noble and idealistic type that the mainstream studio repeatedly espouses in its products. The film's brand of love is not befuddled by weepy needs for fulfilment, whether it comes from the self, parents, or society, but is simply more straightforward, or if we are to be blunt about it, more shallow. Majoy simply wants to find her fated prince charming before her ovaries stop producing eggs. Leo simply wants that diversion where his land-selling skills can also be applied. The other characters are similarly situated. Yet despite the unabashed lack of motivation for their respective romantic endeavors, Mae Czarina Cruz was successful to maintain the same swooning sheen that it shares with Star Cinema's other romances.
Even the casting of Panganiban and Pascual seems to be unburdened with the ulterior motive of establishing a love duo that would hopefully earn for themselves a few more films together and for the studio several more millions of pesos worth of sold tickets. It feels like Panganiban and Pascual were casted not because their pairing can sell the most tickets and can usher in another lucrative pairing involving very bankable celebrities but simply because they fit their roles. The lack of chemistry between the leads is made up mostly by their willingness to take part in the experimentation.
Panganiban, for example, becomes the antithesis of the Star Cinema heroine, which is simply a character that is so written to be played by any actress because that character is simply a vessel of whatever trait that is forwarded by the usually thin narratives of the typical Star Cinema rom-com. The character of Majoy seems to be precisely a Panganiban vehicle. Although not in the same vein as the ones that are usually lauded by critics and the press in their yearly acting ceremonies, Majoy's character is an acting piece that requires Panganiban's fascinating ability to mix the unassuming naiveté of a sexual first-timer and the desperation of a libidinous nympho to great comedic effect. Pascual, on the other hand, gamely allows himself to be objectified.
In reality, Every Breath U Take is nothing to be excited for. It is also nothing to be ashamed of. It is what it is, a well-produced, amply directed, and satisfactorily acted romp. In a climate where the well-fed and patronized mainstream producers have gotten used to the comfort of using less and less imagination and more and more reliance on the elementary parts of a sure-fire hit, a film like this, with all its exaggerations and unforgivably apparent lapses in reality in exchange for laughs and wonderment is as invaluable as a breath of fresh air.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)