Movie review: Elisse Joson shows acting range in 'Habangbuhay'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Apr 24 2022 07:44 AM

McCoy de Leon and Elisse Joson in 'Habangbuhay.' Handout
McCoy de Leon and Elisse Joson in 'Habangbuhay.' Handout

Bea (Ellise Joson) was a pretty, privileged social media influencer with her popular makeup vlogs. JR (McCoy de Leon) was their houseboy, an orphan who grew up with his grandmother and his pet dog. As per the formula these cinematic love stories usually follow, they started hating each others guts, but eventually, they do fall in love. However, as fate would have it, a serious health condition would make this relationship a very challenging one. 

Young adult love stories complicated by a disease suffered by one of the partners has been a familiar trope in films. From "Love Story" (1970) to "Dying Young" (1991), from "A Walk to Remember" (2002) to "The Fault in our Stars" (2014), audiences have wept over these sets of star-crossed lovers who found love in one person, only to realize that this love will end in sadness because one of them is suffering from an incurable illness.

Unlike the previously named film that dealt with cancer, the illness tackled in this film was CVID (Common Variant Immune Deficiency), a rare primary immunodeficiency disease with no known cure which makes the patient easily susceptible to various infectious diseases. So this film was somewhat more akin to "Five Feet Apart" (2019) which dealt with cystic fibrosis, a condition that also made patients prone to deadly lung infections.

Ellise Joson really went to town with this role of Bea, literally running the gamut of human emotions, from ecstatic joy to extreme depression, from being spunky and vibrant, to being wan and powerless. As JR, McCoy de Leon had a very easy chemistry with Joson, convincing us about the sincerity of their love story. However, that this pairing was between a rich spoiled princess and a shy illiterate houseboy was admittedly not too easy to swallow. 

Giving JR his own mental health issue and traumatic backstory in Act 2 was an interesting development, but this did not really matter anymore by the final act. The story arc of Yayo Aguila as Bea's overprotective mother Lily was just too predictable. Even if they tried complicating her story by having her be separated and at odds with her ex-husband Bernard (Lander Vera-Perez), this also did not really go anywhere significant. 

Running for almost two hours, director Real S. Florido took his time to tell a familiar story, with writers Jon Versoza and Paolo Valconcha including all the usual twists in their script. I liked those scenes when Bea and JR were seen together even though there were apart in reality. 

Cinematographer Lee Briones-Meily did some great work with those beautifully-shot scenes about their camping trip on Mt. Tala. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."