I didn’t know that working as a help in a thrift shop (ukay-ukay) could be so lucrative that you could afford a round-trip ticket to Hawaii in one month’s notice. But let’s say you also have a sideline doing homework for lazy kids and you probably have a lot of savings. And if you can borrow P25,000 from your boss, i.e., the ukay-ukay owner, then you’re all set. And assuming an ukay-ukay help already has a US visa, then a Hawaiian vacation is not impossible.
I seriously ruminated on this when Bela Padilla’s character, Lani, an ukay-ukay help, flies to Hawaii and even books an AirBnb. And I wondered why Lani is a store help. Why not a jewelry maker? Or a library assistant? Or maybe an actress or a model? With that beautiful face? Or a freelance photographer? A writer? Or even an owner of an ukay-ukay instead of the help?
Maybe it’s for the purpose of production design, but Lani’s character—bright, the sort of artsy type, silk-screening in her free time, uses the word “romanticizing” and sometimes speaks in perfect English, and enjoys sipping not-so-cheap drinks—does not seem the type who would assist folks in an ukay-ukay store.
So Lani is always clad in a T-shirt over a short frilly skirt, paired with sneakers. And she wears a ponytail with a red bow. She’s like a cool comic-strip character, wearing the same style every day. One night at the ukay-ukay, she meets long-haired Kai (JC Santos), a bum born in Hawaii. Immediately, we notice Lani is attracted to him. She becomes coy, asks him out on Valentine’s, touching him lightly, following him around.
Lani soon finds out that Kai is brokenhearted. Unable to cope, he self-harms (not a spoiler, because this is in the trailer). So I thought the film would delve into mental health. Not really. Lani just shows up in his life, finds him cute and decides to fix him—meaning help him forget his ex in the hopes of making him fall in love with her.
They go on a trip to Hawaii and you analyze their dynamics. Is Kai just leading her on? Is she friend-zoned? The movie will keep you guessing why they won’t end up together. That’s not a spoiler either, because you know that this sort of film doesn’t have a happy ending.
This is written and directed by Jason Paul Laxamana, the same guy behind Santos and Padilla’s first team-up, last year’s box-office hit “100 Tula Para Kay Stella.”
The performances are commendable. Santos and Padilla are known to be competent actors, effortless in their craft. Padilla has a couple of emotional scenes, where she delivers impressively. But the two have no chemistry. They’re just intellectually compatible.
Unrefined editing, some poor visuals, with Kai’s hometown of Lanai City, Hawaii not really looking like a paradise, as Lani keeps yelling excitedly. You don’t get sucked into Kai and Lani’s world. You are merely curious how the story will end, anticipating her impending heartache.
In essence, the film is merely a love story about two broken people who don’t get fixed at the same time. Family drama is thrown into the mix, some trauma and the concept of forgiveness.
The baybayin is not really necessary. A little bit hokey. A slightly pretentious gimmick. Ironically, Kai’s ex, Anne, is obsessed with baybayin, yet it is only now that Kai is learning about it? Okay, not impossible. But, quite curiously, with Lani reliving the baybayin in Kai’s life, doesn’t it bother Kai that the ancient script reminds him of Anne?
The movie is never dull, the main characters are absorbing, Santos’ Kai has an interesting character arc and Lani evokes a raw kind of pain. But the film is, overall, unremarkable. A run-of-the-mill unhappy ending that fades soon after you exit the theater.
If you are a sucker for romantic tragedies, or you’re broken and need assurance that what you are experiencing is not unique, then this movie might fix you a little.
2.5 out of 5 stars
This review appears in the author’s column Film Check in today’s issue of the Daily Tribune.