“Must be Love,” the splashy big-screen launch of Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo as a romantic tandem, has a pay-off worthy of its carefully calibrated setup. It follows the story of tomboy Patchot Espinosa (Bernardo) and her bosom buddy, Ivan Lacson (Padilla), who realize—but refuse to acknowledge—that there’s more to their relationship than friendship.
The premise isn’t something you haven’t seen before, but Bernardo and Padilla’s chemistry balances the film between the crowd-drawing allure of its rom-com elements and the themes that substantially raise its game.
Even the introduction of the mandatory “third wheel”—in the person of Patchot’s lovely cousin, Angel (Liza Soberano)—isn’t de rigueur because, while her arrival raises the stakes for the indecisive love birds, Angel isn’t portrayed as a haughty, insult-spewing adelantada who makes life a living hell for the scruffy “princess” suffering from low self-esteem.
Dado Lumibao makes full use of the production’s picturesque locales in Cebu (the Mactan bridge, the Basilica del Santo Niño, etc.) to add texture and context.
The director paces his movie with a briskness that mirrors its leads’ youthful vibe—and idiosyncratic teenage jargon! There are loose ends that need tying up, as well as implausible moments that are flimsily and awkwardly staged (like Angel’s noble acquiescence). John Lapus, as Ivan’s grieving “Tita” Baby, holds viewers’ attention, but his disturbing paper-cutting habit doesn’t make sense.
Moreover, the bet he makes (a crucial plot point) with kooky Cacai Bautista, as a loud parlorista, is treated as an afterthought. Soberano and John Estrada, who portrays Patchot’s emotionally scarred father, are also compelled to make drastic turnarounds to accommodate a more “suitable,” walk-into-the-sunset finale.
But, the young leads generate enough sparks to light up the screen and keep their love-struck followers screaming and swooning—with good reason.
The young leads operate on synergy. Padilla knows how to put his boy-next-door charm to good use, and his acting choices come off as naturally intuitive.
Bernardo’s underdog appeal keeps moviegoers rooting for her. Crying used to be the young actress’ acting crutch, but she has since learned to process appropriate emotions that inspire empathy.
Can she and her consort build on the impact they’re generating? Let’s wait and see.