Eight days into the quarantine, graduating education major Arlene "Len" Esguerra got into an argument with a certain Carlo "Caloy" Cabahug on social media. That night, she invited her good friends Jo (Yesh Burce) and Mark (Victor Anastacio) for an online drinking session to rant about her online experience. Mark had a friend with him that time, and by sheer coincidence, the new guy turned out to be exact Caloy whom Len was complaining about.
The story and script by Alexandra Gonzales and Kristin Parreno Barrameda tackled the development of a possible romance amid the limitations imposed by the quarantine restrictions brought about by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Len was on her final semester, and had online classes. Caloy was not able to buy a ticket for Cebu to be with his mom (Shyr Valdez) and siblings, and was now working with motorcycle delivery company.
Several activities which people engaged in during the lockdown were shown in the course of the story. Aside from the "e-numan," Len and Caloy also had cooking lessons and music jamming all via video calls. Len also engaged in various popular pandemic trends like Dalgona coffee and home gardening, and also had an online graduation ceremony. We can identify with these things as we most likely did them ourselves during the past year.
The basics of infection control during the pandemic were also weaved into the script, with reminders of using face masks and face shields, and social distancing. The plight of health care workers was also incorporated into the story with the character of Len's mother Aileen (Lotlot de Leon) who was a dedicated nurse who still worked double shifts despite her seniority of age and her ominous coughing fits.
Janine Gutierrez easily drew us to her side with her winsome portrayal of Len, despite the supposed flaws of her woke character. JC Santos turned on his signature charm as Caloy to sweep the NBSB Len off her feet. His Caloy may have his faults, but these were more subtle than the rascals JC played before. Yesh Burce and Victor Anastacio worked well as Len's comical sounding boards. Lotlot de Leon and Shyr Valdez were at their motherly best.
Despite the social isolation of these characters from each other and the palpable loneliness they were all experiencing at that time, the innovative idea executed here by director JP Habac here was having those involved in the video call to be in the same frame together, as if they were actually together in one room. In this way, the rapport, chemistry and the emotions shared remained to be real, relatable and genuinely moving.
As with many recent Filipino romantic films, Ben & Ben gives a beautiful song "Nakikinig Ka Ba sa Akin" to accompany the film's key moments about challenges of communication during crisis situations. No matter how miraculous technology is in getting people in touch during isolating times, nothing can beat the authenticity of a face to face conversation especially when in came to expressing emotions. That ending was just wow.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."