Don’t believe the title. “Sid & Aya” is a love story. But writer-director Irene Emma Villamor is anti-fairytale, so expect that her latest forage into the matters of the heart, like her previous film “Meet Me in St. Gallen” (the Carlo Aquino-Bela Padilla starrer), also tells a complicated romantic story.
In “Sid & Aya,” Villamore pays homage to the Garry Marshal rom-com “Pretty Woman,” except that Anne Curtis’s Aya is not a hooker and this is no comedy. It’s a deeply morose tale, but resplendent with Villamor’s trademark of atmospheric visuals with moody strains cutting through emotional moments. The only humor in this film is Aya’s expression (“joke!”), which makes you cringe.
If Richard Gere’s Edward is a friendless corporate raider who never sleeps, Dingdong Dantes’ Sid is an insomniac stockbroker with no real friends. Then Sid meets Aya, a pretty woman desperate for cash. Intrigued by her, Sid offers Aya money to keep him company. She accepts. And we wait whose heart first loses in the bargain.
The screenplay brims with elements from the Julia Roberts-Richard Gere classic. Sid, like Edward, has a dead mother, then, surprise, a dead father. The state of Florida is mentioned, and there’s a guessing game on Sid’s profession. Gabby Eigenmann is perhaps Phil Stuckey’s counterpart. And, of course, there’s the post-coital whisper of “I love you” while the other is asleep (finally, he sleeps!). An irrepressible confession of the heart.
But this is no “Pretty Woman” merely turned into a more dramatic and pragmatic narrative. The 1990 iconic film is perhaps just Villamor’s inspiration.
“Sid & Aya” tackles the kind of love that arrives at the “wrong time.” With all that baggage in Sid and Aya’s separate lives, are they willing to gamble on love? Is there room for a new relationship at such a weird time, when Sid’s girlfriend is already moving in, and Aya has mommy and money issues, plus there’s her goal of going TNT? Not to mention their togetherness is bounded by a contract?
Curtis and Dantes mine whatever they can from their characters’ scarce personality. Aya is simply a perky blue-collar worker that becomes the break, the black swan event in Sid’s monotonous, lonely existence. A hard-working breadwinner and a portrait of Filipino culture and family values. And that she smokes. Meanwhile, Dantes is just a self-proclaimed “gago” and somewhat molded from Richard Gere’s Edward and works like a “Wolf on Wall Street.”
Nevertheless, Dantes and Curtis’s physical attractiveness and competently restrained performances breathe life into Sid and Aya, supported by Pao Orendain’s slick cinematography.
In the warm hues of the film’s Hollywood aesthetic, Dantes looks fine as an insomniac beguiled by Aya’s charm and is convincingly clueless about his true intentions for her. But it is Curtis that steals the show. Villamor and Orendain lens her as a bewitching manic pixie dream girl, and with her strong chemistry with Dantes, you fall in love with their unspoken love story.
“Sid & Aya” is better written compared to “St. Gallen,” which feels awkwardly episodic and the conflict forced. Although both films share the same concept, the romantic build-up is stronger in “Sid & Aya,” the conflict more convincing, and Curtis and Dantes’ scenes are thick with romantic tension.
Also, Villamore rids the movie of exhausting Pinoy movie cliches, like gregarious sidekicks and conventional parents. She also makes a clever decision by never showing Aya’s ailing father and needy siblings. It cocoons you in a bubble only occupied by Sid and Aya.
The pair’s quiet yearning is enhanced by the meditative, soulful soundtrack. Although somewhat manipulative, the series of melancholic folksy songs sneak in at precise moments, echoing Sid and Aya’s suppressed and ill-defined feelings for each other.
It’s both admirable and sad that Orendain and Villamor convert Makati into Wall Street and Star City into a Woody Allen scene, or “La La Land,” plus a touch of “Closer,” channeling various dreamy, stylish American films–turning Manila into L.A. and Manhattan. It’s more Americanized than magical.
Overall, the movie works. Because despite its obviously heavy Western influences, it penetrates the heart by its delicate storytelling and the film’s near-perfect technical quality. And it provides wrenching moments–small, intimate moments that speak volumes, plus that one unforgettable scene of Aya’s reaction when Sid drops the bombshell in an amusement park. That’s what makes Sid and Aya finally detach from Edward Lewis and Vivian Ward. Because Sid and Aya’s love story echoes a familiar kind of pain.
3 out of 5 stars
May 30, 2018 in Philippine cinemas
This review also appears in today’s issue of The Daily Tribune, in the author’s column “Film Check.”