Better than the sum of its parts
The latest screen pairing of Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo, “She’s Dating The Gangster,” is weighed down by a shrill and too-eager-to-please beginning, but grows on you as it slowly finds its footing. The story that plays out onscreen is far from seamless, but the movie’s inspired sections make it greater than the sum of its disjointed parts.
This time around, the teen tandem doesn’t just parlay its potent chemistry into box-office gold, it makes wise use of Daniel and Kathryn’s growing confidence as actors—thanks to director Cathy Garcia-Molina, who coaxes credible characterizations that require them to move farther away from their comfort zones.
As Athena Dizon, Bernardo juggles a high-wire act that finds her “promdi” character acquiescing to the pig-headed whims of tough guy Kenji delos Reyes (Padilla), who “forces” Athena to pretend to be his girlfriend—to make his ex-flame, Abigail, jealous!
But, all it does is bring Kenji and Athena closer together and make them realize that their fabricated romance is more real than imagined! The situation gets dicier when they get wind of Abigail’s illness, which constrains them to ignore their feelings for each other and make—
the ultimate sacrifice!
Twenty years later, the star-crossed couple’s shared past is revisited by Kenji’s rebellious son, Kenneth (also played by Padilla), and Athena’s well-meaning niece, Kelay (Bernardo), who intends to bring much-needed closure to the unfinished love story of their elders (now portrayed by Richard Gomez and Dawn Zulueta).
The gorgeously photographed, three-hanky drama has a trickier role as Athena for lovely Kathryn to essay. So, she works hard to “sell” it and, for the most part, succeeds. She is a joy to watch in her precious dramatic moments, and has become more discerning with her acting choices.
Unfortunately, Kathryn’s strong showing is compromised as Kelay—whose feistiness occasionally goes off-kilter. But, that isn’t entirely her fault, because this character is underwritten, “undercooked”—and merely serves to move the cluttered exposition along.
Padilla isn’t as consistent, but the characters he plays have clearer dramatic arcs that give him enough elbow room to show off his emerging sensitivity. As his stirring moments of catharsis suggest, there’s more to this matinee idol than his smug and handsome mug.
Tricks and antics
The movie hews too close to the narrative tricks and antics of “Diary ng Panget”—plus, we don’t remember the kids of the ’90s to be as tackily dressed (nor as “overly enthusiastic”) as they are here. There are overwrought moments that run longer than they should—but, that’s par for the course in romantic tearjerkers like this.
Kathryn and Daniel aren’t the only actors who come off well in their scenes. The production’s supporting players manage to shine on their own, despite limited screen time—most notably, the sublime Rio Locsin (who is award-worthy as Abigail’s distraught mother), the dashing Ian Veneracion and the breathtaking Zulueta.
When these screen veterans seize the spotlight, you understand why they deserve to be emulated by the hot, young actors they support!
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.