by Kirby Plando (Class 2020)
NEVER NOT LOVE YOU
dir: Antoinette Jadaone
We’ve all grown used to love stories that emphasize all the inherent positives that come with romance. Love after all is a powerful thing, and local cinema often shows us how it can triumph over almost everything, even as there are those that often try to get in its way. In Antoinette Jadaone’s Love You to the Stars and Back (2017), we were taught of how love can remind us of the beauty of life, not by healing our maladies but by giving us hope to push through even the greatest of tribulations.
In the the first act of Jadaone’s latest film, it captures the beauty of such a love.
Joanne and Gio are both youthful souls, two working-age millenials who have the entire future ahead of them and all the uncertainty that comes with it. The former is the breadwinner who strives to earn for her family and gain a high ranking position in the company she works in, while the latter is a freelance artist whose only plans in life involve a conscious decision to always be happy. The reluctant probinsyana asserts herself as immune to the charms of the confident Amboy, but after a few more encounters and motorcycle rides along nighttime urban streets, both eventually give in to the feelings that they’re obviously developing for each other.
The film doesn’t waste time in establishing this couple’s devotion to one another and to their relationship. Also, even more so than in the aforementioned story of Caloy and Mica, what’s noteworthy is Jadaone’s decision to keep her latest film as grounded in reality as possible, capturing that familiar feeling of love that exists in the context of the real world. In turn, this becomes the film’s greatest asset: how it is able to capture the magic of romance even in seemingly ordinary moments and places. Shared meals in convenience stores and making out while walking along condominium corridors suddenly gain an alluring quality to them, because we can see and feel the special connection that exists behind these simple displays of affection.
Despite having planted seeds of difference that would be a cause of major disagreement later on, the film succeeds at convincing us of why we need to care so much for these characters. In a world of incertitude, the two grow sure of only one thing: they are willing to sacrifice anything and everything just to be with each other. This gives the film the opportunity to challenge its characters in ways more akin to real-life circumstances than the usual contrivances of romance films. Never Not Love You asks us to not only question the decisions our characters make, but also those that we ourselves would make should we be the ones put in their position. It’s an added level of investment to a relationship that’s already easy enough to root for.
The plot basically hinges on all the choices of our two leads made both by each other and for each other, and the reactions and emotions that arise from all the sacrifice and frustration. It leads to some particularly heartwrenching moments, as they struggle to sustain their love amidst changing desires and increasingly difficult circumstances. The film does eventually exhaust all of this though, especially in its tail end when it feels like they either ran out of ways to challenge the characters or mark of a hesitance to really push them even further. This culminates in a final scene that’s ambiguous by keeping a thousand words unsaid, but at a moment when what’s needed is for the story to commit to whether love can truly survive despite all the compromise and bitter regret that it has already painfully endured.
For the most part though, everything still works out because of Jadaone’s creative choices and the strong central dynamic. An urban setting bathed in neon and shadow is an early highlight, while a noteworthy FaceTime-like scene in the latter half is able to exude a raw and potent kind of melancholy. As for the leads, James Reid is put to better use this time around than in previous roles, moving past his awkward accent to display an anger to his character that slowly matures later on. But really, it’s Nadine Lustre who really amazes here, able to maintain a restraint to her character while exhibiting a multitude of emotions borne of her collective experiences. Together, their dynamic is so astounding in just how natural it all feels, bringing a feeling of familiarity to their chemistry both in their sweetest and saddest moments.
Overall, Never Not Love You is an entrancing portrayal of how invincible we feel when we fall in love, and the all too real feeling that comes when circumstances prove that there’s more to it than just that. It reminds us that a relationship cannot simply exist inside its own little world where we could always choose to be happy, as happiness may sometimes be the toughest choice that we need to make. While it doesn’t concretely follow-through on the consequences of compromise, it shows us how powerful love can really be, thrust into reality where it’s more than just kisses and happy endings.