‘Elise’: Charming rom-com shows Enchong-Janine tandem in a flattering light
It isn’t a story you have yet to hear, read or see, but that doesn’t make “Elise’s” effort any less significant.
True, there’s an Oscar-worthy film (Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book”) on view in our cineplexes this week, but Joel Ferrer’s unconventional film manages to hold its own and distinguishes itself from the rest of the rom-com pack by refusing to merely whisk viewers through a checklist of clichés.
As it turns the worn-out genre on its head, Ferrer’s persuasively proficient and boldly imaginative cinematic charmer shows Enchong Dee and Janine Gutierrez, last seen together in 2016’s half-baked 2016 chiller “Lila,” in a favorable new light—a career-best for both actors, who are cast in roles that play well to their largely underutilized acting skills.
First love never dies, indeed—and this couldn’t get any clearer than the enduring romance at the heart of “Elise.”
On the surface, it looks like any other love story we know, but this particular tale is forged by years of friendship, heartbreak, as well as the vagaries and ambiguities of romantic love.
Bert (Enchong) has been in love with Elise (Janine) since they were childhood buddies, but it’s a relationship that is sadly upended by the sudden decision of Elise’s parents to relocate to Manila.
Eight years later, puppy love blossoms into something deeper when Bert crosses paths with Elise again.
Their unwavering affection for each other is warmer than ever, but there’s a hitch: Elise is now head-over-heels in love with Ivan (Miko Raval), the hot guy on campus who has difficulty resisting the charm of flirtatious girls around him.
Will Bert let his elusive dream girl slip through his fingers again? Or should he settle for other pretty girls who don’t make his heart skip a beat?
Ferrer delivers a disarming story that sparkles with wit, verve and substance as it bravely eschews mainstream cinema’s penchant for formulaic yarn-spinning for something more thoughtful, simple and real. It also owes its viewability to the unforced humor of its characters.
Moreover, the film doesn’t pretend to know the solutions to the problems of its beleaguered protagonists, as most rom-coms are wont to do, so viewers remain curiously—and enthusiastically—invested in the story as it unfolds.
It’s this element of unpredictability that gives the production its unfettered charm and beauty.
In neat strokes, “Elise” sketches a relationship that is as light and easygoing as it is affection-hooking. There’s subtly limned melodrama in it, giving the film relatable accessibility, but it isn’t fraught with tedious clichés.
We see Bert and Elise’ world unfurl into exciting complexity, which in turn gives its actors a solid resource to draw from.
Enchong and the lovely Janine aren’t just utilized as exasperating pawns to a carefully manufactured story, so you see them “growing” into their characters as they march to the beat of their own drums, further enriching their characters with insight and nuance that viewers can savor with gusto.
But it’d be unfair to just single out Enchong and Janine, because the production is a treasure-trove of idiosyncratic portrayals from a likable cast.
The other standouts include Krystal Brimner (as the young Elise), Laura Lehmann (as Bert’s other girlfriend), Jackie Lou Blanco and Pilita Corrales (as Bert’s mom and granny, respectively), Victor Anastacio (as his loopy best friend), and the spunky Miel Espinoza (as the inquisitive schoolgirl, Remy)—each complementing the lead actors’ career-boosting thespic feats.
How’s that for thespic synergy?