'The Achy Breaky Hearts' review: Gleeful and subversive

It is extremely ironic that while the proliferation of romantic comedies in local cinema is partly due to the increase of female movie patrons, the genre itself remains backward in its treatment of women.

Of course, the commodity in the business is the fantasy of a perfect romance, and the presumption here is that love-addicted women will do whatever it takes to make that fantasy into a reality.

It is evidently backward especially in this age of equal rights and opportunities, but that’s entertainment, and anybody who thinks otherwise is either a loveless critic or an incurable cynic.

 

Two possible romances

In a way, the existence of Antoinette Jadaone’s The Achy Breaky Hearts within a society that tolerates films that are not too progressive in representing women is in itself a triumph.

The movie, without straying too far from the usual escapist delights of the rom-com, manages to posit a more empowering stand on women on the verge of falling in love. Even if it seems that the explicable primary concern is still the search for romance, there is still wiggle room for some sort of self-respect and self-determination. 

 

The movie opens with a lengthy narrated sequence that humorously details the hardships of the single Filipino – how she would often get barraged in social gatherings with the same question of when she will get married, how she would often spend time with her also-single friends (rationalizing the benefits of singlehood while realizing the benefits of being with someone), and how essentially incomplete life is without a man. During this sequence, the movie also introduces its protagonist, Chinggay (Jodi Sta. Maria), a woman who’s been single for exactly seven years.

The conceit of The Achy Breaky Hearts is basically to have Chinggay, who has given up on finding her one true love, suddenly become the subject of two possible romances all at the same time.

One is with Ryan (Ian Veneracion), a customer in the jewelry shop Chinggay works for whose engagement proposal has been rejected. Another is with Frank (Richard Yap), an erring ex-boyfriend who comes back into Chinggay’s life as a changed man.

Much of the movie is spent on Chinggay juggling her time and emotions between the two men.

Likeable lead

Screengrab from YouTube/Star Cinema

It’s all quite good.

It therefore doesn’t come out surprising that Jadaone and co-writer Yoshke Dimen spend a great deal of time transforming Chinggay into a character that is likable enough to forgive despite her questionable emotional disloyalties.

Sta. Maria is excellent here. She fully embraces the outright silliness of her character and the scenarios she lands into without completely abandoning that there should still be some room for ache and seriousness.

Screengrab from YouTube/Star Cinema

In one scene, Sta. Maria dances to a nonsensical song while crying her eyes out. It’s a beautiful moment that exemplify Jadaone’s innate understanding that while romance seems to be the most frivolous of desires, it does not lessen the impact of the aches one gets from it. It is as human as everything else. 

However, The Achy Breaky Hearts never really graduates from being a clever concept into becoming a fully fleshed narrative – one that can work without ambitions of redirecting the motives of the genre to suit its target market.

The movie is essentially an expertly crafted medley of feel-good moments that work wonders as individual scenes but never really cohere as a whole.

Screengrab from YouTube/Star Cinema

Weak men

The movie is one lovely idea that could have been lovelier if it didn’t stop at just shaping its male characters as just sketches of ideal men with tenuous imperfections. The men of the movie have shaky personalities, with motivations that are conveniently manufactured to suit Chinggay’s precarious situation.

Still, The Achy Breaky Hearts is gleeful enough to forgive all of its deficiencies. It is light but has a lot to say. It can even be claimed that the movie is subversive, considering that the previous onscreen pairings of Sta. Maria with either Yap or Veneracion would always have the characters played by Sta. Maria drastically changing to suit her lover. 

This time, she is chased by men, who change for her.Sure, she gets hurt too, but that is only because pain is but part of loving.

That smile Sta. Maria smiles in the end of the movie may not be one that is out of achieving the fairy tale ending most rom-coms aspire for, but it is one that is bursting with the most fulfilment. – Rappler.com