Festivals, Reviews

MMFF 2019: ‘Write About Love’—On Failed Romance and Other Prerequisites for Growth

Between this movie and all the recent local rom-coms that have fallen into my lap (latest recommendations from friends include I’m Drunk, I Love You and That Thing Called Tadhana, coincidentally both referenced in Write About Love), it’s hard not to feel like there’s some otherworldly, omnipotent force (maybe love itself?) pushing me to rethink my definition of romance. Maybe it’s our compulsion to categorize literally everything that pushed me to believe otherwise, but I’m beginning to realize love is more malleable than I think. In the grand scheme of things, how do you distinguish platonic from romantic? In the grander scheme of things, does it even matter? In the essay One Text is Too Many and a Thousand are Never Enough from her book So Sad Today, Melissa Broder wrote about grieving for a lost love, then how that grief became bigger than the loss itself: “[The sorrow] is probably never really about the person you think you’re obsessed with. It’s about old pain.”

Centered on a budding screenwriter (Miles Ocampo) who’s given a month to rework a meet-cute screenplay into a relationship story with the assistance of a seasoned industry veteran (Rocco Nacino), Write About Love is more of an homage to the genre than an entry to it. As early as last year’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the trailer for this TBA Studios-backed film has been making rounds in movie theaters—how many times have I walked into the cinema and heard, yet again, the two stars playfully calling each other Ms. Rom-com and Mr. Indie? Frankly, I was surprised to find out it was slated for MMFF; even more so when it turned out to be more than the enemies-to-lovers trope-infested gabfest I thought it would be. This movie, much to my delight, subverted every expectation I had for it.

With its movie-within-a-movie format, it took your usual rom-com template and turned it on its head, giving us something fresh with a lot to say about love in movies and love in real life. Its writing has a degree of self-awareness that benefitted the characterization of the protagonists: it acknowledges, and is explicitly thankful for, the movies that precede it, presenting a love story built on earlier loves, earlier feelings. Ocampo’s character—who is unnamed throughout the film, credited only as ‘female writer’—has never had a romantic relationship, so it makes sense that she defines love through stories lived, and written, by others.

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Its knowledge of love, both the on-screen and off-screen kind, is the foundation of its authenticity. It knows what works and what doesn’t, and when it works and when it doesn’t. Love acts as the divine providence invisibly taking hold of the narrative. Although not perfectly executed, each character experiences a different species of it: Nacino, with the unconditional, inevitably painful kind; Ocampo’s father, with the no holds barred, reckless kind; Ocampo’s mother, with the selfless, self-consuming kind; and Ocampo, simultaneously, hopeful for a blossoming love, passionate but guarded, understandably afraid of her own naiveté both in writing and in romance, and so, so pained—as she said in one of the film’s most heartbreaking confrontations, her greatest love is her greatest pain.

In fact, this works better not as a romantic comedy but a character study of Ocampo’s female writer. She’s very full-fleshed, and while she has a lot of chemistry with co-star Nacino, it’s the scenes without him that really stuck; particularly ones with her parents. The movie-within-the-movie, starring Joem Bascon and Yeng Constantino, also proved to be compelling. I worried I would grow tired of the switching between fiction and nonfiction as I was already invested in the latter, but the former is the emotional core of the story. The two writers are not exempt from the tendency for projection, or from using their work to process their own emotions. This pays off wonderfully in the third act, when, signified through the aspect ratio, the line between fiction and nonfiction blurs.

With this said, it still has its pitfalls: it can be draggy and can fall victim to some tropes it’s trying to dissolve. But it’s more than the sum of its parts. It has a lot of heart, so its weaknesses are very easily forgiven. It’s not a perfect film, but the friend I saw this with, encouraged by the movie’s pivotal spontaneous Sagada sequence, is going to Mt. Kiltepan next week to scream at the sunrise, just as Ocampo did. The line between fiction and nonfiction continues to blur; I might just go ahead and join her.

 

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