Of all the films in the current first edition of the nationwide Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the one participating film that is bound to attract the most viewers would probably be this "teen" romance. For this festival, this film is the only one that fits in that genre that many mainstream Filipino moviegoers can't seem to get tired of, despite having a new one almost every week. So far, in the mall I was in this afternoon, this was the only film with a long line that formed outside it.
The year was 2004. Fidel Lansangan and Stella Puno met as 17-year-old freshman BA Psych students at the Pampanga Agricultural College. They hit it off as friends even if their personalities seemed worlds apart. Fidel is a nerdy, grade-conscious honor student who had a speech impediment and a love for poetry. Stella is a tough, confident rocker chick who wore black lipstick and would rather sing with her band than study.
Shy Fidel started a series of love poems dedicated to Stella, but he never had the guts to let her read them. On the other hand, Stella was going through a series of boyfriends in her quest to snag a recording contract. When Fidel finally wrote his 100th poem to Stella, will he finally be able to give her his poems and tell her how he felt for her in the past four years?
Those who were expecting a lighthearted funny romp will be up for a surprise. I found this film very heavy to watch. With the talent of lead stars JC Santos and Bela Padilla in portraying the lead pair of Fidel and Stella, the audience can definitely feel the frustration and hurt of both characters. For me, it was not easy to bear all this pained emotion for the whole 2 hours running time.
I felt that it was a bit difficult to accept Santos and Padilla as 17-year-olds as they unmistakably looked more mature than the real teenagers with them in the classrooms or parties. Since they did look mature, it was hard to believe that they would do things that were so immature. I think it could have been better to have cast actual teens (I do not think there is a shortage) in these roles so that all the angst did not feel too awkward.
I felt somehow that this whole plot was a gender-switched version of the recent romantic hit indie, "I'm Drunk I Love You." The characters in both films were both college students. They both liked to sing. There were key scenes of drunken weakness set in a motel bedroom in both films, though with different outcomes. A line delivered by Fidel during that scene actually elicited a spontaneous round of applause from the youthful crowd during the screening I caught, certainly a rare occurrence.
Among the supporting characters. it was Ana Abad Santos who makes a strong impression as Fidel's English teacher, Ms. Bardozo. She had one scene where she breaks down after reading Fidel's poetry that was so touching. JC Parker tended to be hysterical. Prince Stefan played Chuck, Fidel's gay beat-boxer roommate at his dorm at the Phil. Republic University, who recruited Fidel to join the Young Performers Club. He could have toned down his florid portrayal a couple of notches.
I wish the role of Danica, Fidel and Stella's jealous blockmate, could have been played better by Mayton Eugenio. She could not project this emotion of jealousy well even if we can all feel it in the situation. I could also say the same for Caleb Santos in the role of Von, Danica's poor cousin who ran the photocopy machine in the library. To be fair, with his fair skin and mestizo features, I felt he was totally miscast for this key role.
You have to admire the production designer for trying to be meticulous about the props, since this film was set more than a decade ago. I am not really sure if local bands still really released albums in cassette tapes in those years, although it was said that Stella thought CD's were easily damaged, hence her preference for cassettes. The repeated mention of Friendster may sound strange to the teenage crowd watching.
Overall, this film, as written and directed by Jason Paul Laxamana, might connect better with millennial viewers than Gen X'ers. The actors did their best to portray their characters despite some irrational acts and decisions they were making. I personally could identify and empathize with Fidel's character, so I thought Stella was really one very strange girl, the way she was written. Fortunately, the way Padilla played her unlikable character, it was not easy to bear a grudge on her. 6/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."