You Are the One (Cathy Garcia-Molina, 2006)
I caught this one on cable television. I've heard some good stuff about this rom-com, but easily dismissed it as part of the hype machinery Star Cinema (or any other Filipino film studio, for that matter) utilizes to quickly recoup investments (yes, film studios are getting very creative in promotions as the film industry here is on the verge of extinction from cutthroat competition by Hollywood). Surprise surprise! The film is actually quite good.
The plot is simple enough: Will (toothpaste model-turned-reality television star-turned-matinée idol Sam Milby) is an employee in the American embassy in Manila who denied the visa application of Sally (singer-turned-host-turned-film star Toni Gonzaga), an employee of the local statistics office. It turns out the Will is also looking for his biological parents who gave him up when he was a baby. The tides turn when Will is now under the whims of Sally's office when the former starts searching for his birth certificate. From the census office, to the slums of Tondo, to the buried towns in Pampanga, the two start a romantic relationship that gets tested by their own individual dilemmas.
It's not the formulaic plot that gets the film going, but Cathy Garcia-Molina's astute direction. She finds whimsical in dire situations. While the late Lino Brocka, and his successors, would've made grave drama about the living conditions of Tondo, Garcia-Molina finds gems of human ingenuity. The rooftop of a squalid apartment becomes filled with colorful tents and bright umbrellas that shield gamblers and afternoon drunkards from the gaze of the sun; two buildings are connected by a string that allows laundry to be brought to and fro; women drag their children like a hen dragging her set of chicks. It is that unexplainable cosmos of survivors and their survival techniques that the Americans (in this case, Will) would never understand; and that's what Garcia-Molina forwards so wonderfully.
The film's romantic getaway happens in Pampanga, the province that was buried by a mixture of ash and mad (called lahar) by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. While other filmmakers squeeze the melodramatics of tragedy created by that natural catastrophe (like Mel Chionglo's Lahar (1996) or more recently, Brillante Mendoza's Kaleldo (Summer Heat, 2006)), Garcia-Molina paints the buried towns with gratifying color, turning them into one grandiose carnival. The setting is beautiful enough to be the central set piece for Will and Sally's blossoming love affair, as cued by the titular song heard in the background as the couple swoon in the rain.
Garcia-Molina distinguishes the clear-cut yet dull lifestyle of Will from the seductive chaos of Sally's life (complete with her two best friends: a standard gay sidekick (Gio Alvarez) and lovelorn internet dater (Eugene Domingo)). Their workplaces spell out bureaucracy but the professionally boring straightness of the U.S. Embassy feels very clinical as compared to the crowd-infested yet always pleasant (something I wish were true in real life) madness of the statistics office. It is that allure that tempts Will to re-discover himself and open up to the possibilities of taking part in it.
That run-of-the-mill ending of all romantic comedies wherein the male lover chases after his female lover (or vice versa) which is always against time, circumstance, or calamity is pumped up by Garcia-Molina and her team of imaginative writers, made distinctly Filipino by an adherence to exaggeration and over-the-top histrionics. This time, it works mostly because Garcia-Molina has consistently made it work ever since the first scene where time-tied Sally hilariously un-knots a traffic jam to the real, from ridiculous and enjoyable party-poverty in Tondo to the half-buried yet still habitable houses of Pampanga. It's a string of fascinating sequences and all of them are genuinely enjoyable. I do not kid.