‘Isa Pa with Feelings’: Tone deaf, eye candy

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Once again Black Sheep delivers a romance film that stars a strong tandem: Ulan’s Carlo Aquino and AlDub’s Maine Mendoza, mixed in with all the right ingredients to make a top-grossing hit: fairy lights, shots of the cityscape, movie/TV references (from Pangako Sa’Yo to (500) Days of Summer!), and songs from Juan Karlos Labajo and Unique Salonga. 

In Isa Pa with Feelings, Mara (Mendoza), an architecture graduate, cum laude, and underboard employee signs up for sign language school because she wants to communicate with her deaf niece. Gali (Aquino), a handsome deaf softboy and Mara’s neighbor, coincidentally ends up becoming her teacher. They talk to one another through sign language, facial expressions, and screens from laptops and mobile phones.

After Mara fails the architect licensure exams and the dreams of her father, she gets into a car accident that brings her and Gali closer together. She eventually decides to resign from her post, and from this point it becomes unclear how she’s still able to pay for rent in her condo in the following days, and if it really was her niece that motivated her to study sign because we never see her again or hear her mentioned for the rest of the film. 

Viewers might also question how Gali was able to afford a condo himself, considering the substandard pay for teachers here in the Philippines. The question pops up consistently because Gali even has the time to volunteer on weekends, plus he has his own car and the money to fix it after an accident. Even Gali’s non-hearing friends from a party where Mara was invited all seemed super well-off. 

This is not to say that differently-abled persons cannot achieve this, but these representations undermine the struggles that less privileged deaf people in the Philippines experience. Although the movie did a good job at depicting Gali’s personal hardships and anxieties, it ultimately uses his deafness in a tired “love against all odds” fairytale—near the end of the film, Mara determinedly tells Gali, “I’ll be deaf for you” as proof of her love, like that was supposed to be romantic? It neither makes them equal nor does it make Gali’s disability disappear. 

Nonetheless, the movie was shot so beautifully that even the cheesiest moments seemed magical. In one scene, Mara and Gali look at one another through a fish tank, reminiscent of that aquarium scene in the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. I especially liked that one scene outside their condo foregrounded by their online chat exchanges, and the three dots from each character (“…” meant they were typing) effectively portrayed each other’s silent but burning desires. 

Isa Pa, with Feelings ends on a happy note. We don’t know what happens to them after, but seeing their entire journey unfold (from the ups and highs to the second car accident in the movie) assures us that Mara and Gali will turn out fine. It’s a love story, after all.

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