The film opens with a narrated montage of Trina (Yassi Pressman) explaining how after a few bad relationships, she has given up on romance and has resigned to being the constant third wheel to all her friends' perfect relationships. By the perky way Payawal breezes through Trina's history of heartaches, it almost feels like the film is on its way to being just another attempt to weave some colorful craze out of another story about a heartbroken girl who will eventually meet her fated love.
More than the romance
It certainly feels like it at first.
Trina is a receptionist for an ad agency. After her boss (Candy Pangilinan) fires a couple of her associates, she gets promoted to copywriter. Neo (Sam Milby), Trina's neighbor whom she at first despises, is also hired as an art director and her partner for a campaign. Predictably, Trina and Neo, despite their initial awkwardness with each other, form a romantic relationship.
Payawal goes through the ordinary motions of the rom-com.
Photo courtesy of Viva
It is almost as if there is hardly an attempt at innovation. Except for the wryly written dialogue that is sure to result in a few chuckles, the romance offers nearly nothing new. It is the standard love story between seemingly mismatched individuals that we often see in the dime-a-dozen rom-coms that crowd local cinemas reduced to a third of the standard running time. There are short cuts left and right, and the chemistry isn't always there.
Thankfully, Ang Pambansang Third Wheel is more than just the conventional romance that opens it. The story evolves. As soon as Trina and Neo learn that they love each other, complications arise, the most prominent of which is the fact that Neo is actually a father of a child (Alonzo Muhlach) who has been pining for his mostly absent father's attention.
At this point, the film's title develops a surprising heft. Trina jumps from being the pathetic third wheel to other people’s happy love stories to being the intrusive third wheel of a father trying to win back his son. The film begins to ripen, seemingly sobering up from the barrage of wackiness that opens it, turning itself into a sometimes affecting character study of a woman in the middle of a man and his family.
It is when Trina graduates from being the typical romantic lead and into a woman at the center of a myriad dilemmas that Pressman begins to showcase an impressive range as an actress.
Ang Pambansang Third Wheel is Pressman's most mature work.
The actress, who has been relegated to roles that do not require her to do anything other than look beautiful, is an endearing presence here, whether she portrays the hardened romantic, the doting daughter, or the enduring wallflower. She provides her character with a world-wary stance that is believable. When she finally falls in love and is forced to squeeze herself in the middle of her boyfriend’s complicated life, her quiet pains resound.
It has become apparent that Payawal has a gift for crafting complete female characters out of what could have been damning stereotypes. In The Comeback (2015), it is an abrasively spoiled fading actress that finds a chance at redemption. In I America (2016), it is a confused bi-racial brat that finds her identity. Here, it is the archetypal hopeless romantic that finds her place in a world where romantic fantasies are far from real.
Payawal's films are never perfect.
They are often littered with more kitsch than it needs. They also meander needlessly towards the end, desperate to find the perfect ending to its long-winded tale. However, his films also display a directorial affinity for characters that are never stagnant. They grow. They mature. They find an aim.
Most focused film
Ang Pambansang Third Wheel is Payawal's most focused film for now. Sure, it has a horde of problems, but they are never glaring enough to distract. The film has enough charm and charisma to cover its misfires. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass. Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.