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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 2, 2017

Love You To The Stars And Back Movie Review: Young Adults Romance Well Acted By Two Lead Joshua Garcia & Julia Barretto

WRITER-DIRECTOR Antoinette Jadaone dazzled us with her captivating indie love story, “That Thing Called Tadhana”, which was a surprise hit. Since then, most of her works were not as impressive like “You’re My Boss”, “All You Need is Pag-ibig” and “Achy-Breaky Hearts”. She now bounces back to top form in “Love You to the Stars and Back”, a young adults romance with three-dimensional characters and topnotch, heartfelt performances by the two leads, Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto, who both have winning endearing screen personalities.

This is their reunion after the Metro filmfest surprise hit, “Vince Kath & James”, and they’re even better here than in their first movie together. Joshua’s appealing man-boy charisma really holds the screen and works so well for his role as Caloy, a Batangueno who is suffering from leukemia but continues to have an upbeat, cheerful outlook in life even if he’s well aware of the fragility of his existence. He lives in the present because he may have no future and it helps that he is not afraid of making fun of himself, like when he is self-deprecatingly counting his non-existent abs.

Julia’s veneer of vulnerability also works in her favor as Mika, a young woman grieving for the untimely passing of her mom (Carmina Villaroel) and resentful of her dad’s (Ariel Rivera) new relationship with her very considerate stepmom (Marica Reyes) who’s trying hard to win her confidence. She handles her sensitive scenes with persuasive emotional depth. The “kilig” factor between her and Joshua is truly very palpable.

When Mika learns that her stepmom is pregnant and she’ll soon have a half-sibling, she leaves their house and drives to Batangas to go to a mountain where she believes she will be taken by aliens (a belief she got from her late mom). On that day, Caloy also leaves their home in Lemery without saying good to his mom (Cherry Pie Picache) to visit his estranged dad who now lives with his new family in Calaca.

Caloy and Mika have a cute meet with a dash of toilet humor when they both answer the call of nature in a grassy area by the roadside. As she leaves angrily, Mika accidentally runs over Caloy’s left foot then feels guilty about it she asks him to ride in her car so she can drive her to wherever he is going. You know immediately that this will be the start of something good and unforgettable for the both of them.

Along the way, they meet a man (Jelson Bay) carrying some chickens for the wedding of his daughter and they give him a ride to his balae (Odette Khan). They also help a shy girl attend her JS prom and dance with her crush. Eventually, they get to Mt. Milagros and recite the gibberish chant that Mika has made up to attract the aliens.

These incidents make their road trip worth watching and the way the story is resolved will surely satisfy the hopeless romantics, despite the gross toilet humor involving farts and throwing up shown in some scenes. Be sure to have some tissue paper with you as it’s quite a tearjerker that doesn’t overly manipulate us to cry.

The movie will not stand without the engaging performances of Joshua and Julia whose characters are beautifully realized. They come out as genuine, credible individuals whose stories and emotions are real. Their dramatic scenes together will surely make you shed a tear or two.

There are two great acting highlights. First is set at the bridge after Caloy is rejected by his biological dad and he feels so downbeat about it that he vents his ire on Mika. The second is at the kitchen in the lodge where they stayed overnight and where the sick Caloy implores Mika not to inform his mom and siblings because they will spend millions for his bone marrow transplant. This is truly heart-wrenching.

Technical aspects are all great, including the cinematography by Herman Claraval that perfectly captures the beauty of the tower rock where the ending is set, reminiscent of that mountain top scene in “That Thing Called Tadhana”. The music is also fine, especially the choice of the Celeste Legaspi song “Torete”, now rendered with a new flavor by Moira de la Torre.

We just feel bad that each time we watch this film (yes, we’ve seen it twice, in Trinoma and Promenade), the theater is not full of viewers. More than any romantic movie we’ve seen this year, this one merits our notice and support. It offers real sentiment, not just cheap sentimentality. Even auteur writer-director Jadaone’s dialogue can be sharp and witty. Her screenplay is not at all sappy or mawkish as it contains more humor than can be found in other cancer-related films, so we’re still hoping that good word of mouth endorsement will make more people interested to watch this film.