First things first: Olivia Lamasan’s visually delectable screen drama, “Barcelona,” is the KathNiel tandem’s most mature film to date—and it cogently demonstrates that Daniel Padilla’s career-boosting portrayal in “Crazy Beautiful You” was no fluke.
It also proves that the 21-year-old actor’s dramatic perspicacity is as potent as his tween-hooking good looks and “angas” (boastful) posturing.
That said, it’s hard to fully appreciate the film’s vaunted thematic pertinence—about the plight of underemployed OFWs around the world—or genuinely empathize with its beleaguered protagonists, because its “wired-to-please” schmaltz and melodramatic excesses are too contrived and emotionally manipulative to truly resonate with viewers.
Making its five-hanky contrivances harder to savor and “digest” are the production’s overeager supporting actors and poorly coached miron (kibitzers) who are made to ham it up to serve their purpose in the deliberately staged exposition—a formulaic storytelling device that ran its course in the melodrama-weaned ‘80s and ‘90s.
Ely Antonio (Padilla) juggles three jobs to finance his family’s needs in his home country and support his cash-strapped Masteral studies in Barcelona. His heart is truly in animation and visual arts, but everybody expects him to change the course of his life for his former girlfriend Celine Antipala’s (Kathryn Bernardo) dream for him—to make as much money as he can as an architect.
Ely’s hectic world is made more complicated when he crosses paths with the enthusiastic but clumsy Mia dela Torre (Bernardo again)—who just happens to look like Celine’s doppelganger!
Mia has more urgent concerns. She’s out to prove to her family that she’s better than the underachieving dreamer they think she is. She’s convinced that her stint in Spain is the bracing change of pace—and quick fix—she needs to make up for her stressful and disgraceful exit from law school, where she was kicked out after she was caught cheating.
But, the new lease on life quickly turns into another low blow when Mia realizes that her sweet-talking recruiter isn’t as legit as she thought!
Worse, her Caucasian paramour only wants to get in her pants—but not if Ely can help it! Is Ely interested in Mia only because she looks like his former girlfriend?
The film looks gorgeous—but, its visual appeal quickly overstays its welcome. It’s considerably weighed down by annoying distractions that include, among other things, staged product-placement moments involving their preferred brand of coffee.
Growing up, apart
Later, copious tears are shed as Kathryn and Daniel “proselytize” about growing up and growing apart, as well as the importance of forgiving and letting go—but, they feel more manipulated than organically limned.
Kathryn, who’s always been a natural actress, turns in a credible and carefully calibrated portrayal. But, there are moments when her performance feels forced, “overdirected” and less textured than intended.
It is Daniel, in one of the year’s finest performances, who delivers a memorable characterization, refined further by his gimlet-eyed focus, consistency and moving gravitas. None of the tears he sheds is unearned. He even manages to do away with the nasal delivery that often weighs down his performances.
If Daniel sustains this upward thespic trajectory, it’ll be harder to imagine other Teen King wannabes being able to snatch his crown anytime soon.