Love-hate dilemma in JoshLia’s less-than-satisfying rom-com
There’s a lot of clumsy gags and attention-stalling dead air in Giselle Andres’ “I Love You, Hater,” Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto’s latest rom-com. But there’s nothing more distracting than seeing Kris Aquino self-consciously mouthing her singsong lines as if they were self-indulgent spiels for a talk show.
We neither “love” nor “hate” Kris, but we expected to see a more natural performance from her at the very least, not a thespic regression—after all, she’s been directed by the irrepressible likes of Ishmael Bernal (“Mahal Kita, Walang Iba”), Mario O’Hara (“Fatima Buen Story”) and Chito Roño (“Feng Shui”).
Moreover, portraying a social media-savvy mogul like her character in the film is right up Kris’ “Queen of All Media” alley and appellation. But, we digress.
Andres’ follow-up to the excruciating “Loving in Tandem” banks on the youthful appeal of the JoshLia tandem that has been productively mined in Theodore Boborol’s “Vince & Kath & James,” Antoinette Jadaone’s “Love You to the Stars and Back” and Cathy Garcia-Molina’s “Unexpectedly Yours.”
This time, the young lovers are cast as Joko Macaraeg (Joshua) and Zoey Rivera (Julia), cash-strapped applicants competing for the same position—as digital empress Sasha Imperial’s (Kris) new assistant. It’s a coveted job that comes with a high salary and a string of perks.
Joko and Zoey are given three months to outwit and “outperform” each other, and demonstrate what they can do to help boost Sasha’s branding ploys and image-tweaking.
But, there’s more to the rivals’ persistence than meets the eye: Zoey wants to prove to her dad (Ricardo Cepeda) that she isn’t just another needy daughter born out of wedlock.
On the other hand, Joko is in an even tighter fix because he can’t muster enough courage to tell his family that the closest he could get to New York City, where they think he’s working as a well-paid graphic artist, was in Cubao. He’s pretty certain that getting conned by an illegal recruiter isn’t their idea of success.
Joko’s in such a deep bind that he’s willing to pretend he’s gay, just to get Zoey out of contention. But, when he starts falling for his biggest competitor, he begins to lose focus and gets his well-guarded priorities all mixed up. What to do?
It’s hard to ignore the potent chemistry that makes moviegoers rally behind Joshua and Julia. But, there’s something about their backstories’ “manufactured” sentimentality that doesn’t ring true, which prevents viewers from fully empathizing with their characters.
Joshua and Julia show flashes of maturity and dramatic perspicacity, but their efforts are more knee-jerk and episodic than they should be.
Ditto the movie itself—the kilig moments quickly overstay their welcome because Joko and Zoey’s shared story, while thematically pertinent, feels more staged than organically limned. It has a difficult time sustaining the power of its dramatic punches and the sincerity of its two-dimensional characters.
Besides, it’s hard to sympathize with a lovestruck girl who gets angry when the swishy guy she professes to love with all her heart finally discloses that—he isn’t gay after all! Spell discombobulating.
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