Starting Over Again begins with a relationship between a college student and a college professor. It finds nothing wrong with this. It doesn't even bring it up. It's just another cute meet in a long tradition of them. The rest of the film follows in much of the same vein. The characters exhibit behavior that some would find objectionable, but the film treats most of them as just another cute element in a well established formula. This is a problem, because while the story is reaching for something more mature, the film is committed to being completely juvenile.
The film starts in 2004. All throughout college, architecture student Ginny (Toni Gonzaga) was in love with history teacher Marco (Piolo Pascual). Through sheer persistence, she actually wins him over in her last year of school. The film then zips ahead to 2013. The two are no longer together, Ginny having left him years earlier to study in Barcelona. But now she's back in Manila, and she's been hired by Marco to design a new restaurant. She discovers that she still harbors feelings for him, and that she regrets leaving him. Unfortunately for her, Marco is already in a relationship with a woman he plans to marry.
The film is interesting in that it is ultimately more about closure than it is about relationships. The main insight here is that in the absence of closure, people can end up doing terrible things. One might actively pursue an old flame that's found someone else, or become oblivious to the pain being inflicted on others. That's a somewhat intriguing idea that is rarely explored in films of this type. Unfortunately, the film still treats this story conventionally. Even though this is a movie about people making terrible choices, the film still largely treats everything as if it were sweet and romantic. The story really requires a more adult touch, a treatment unafraid to embrace the ugliness of its characters.
Context is everything. The bubbly, almost adolescent behavior of the main characters would be excusable in a film that was simply about the first throes of romance. But in the film's context, the behavior is gross. It is outside the realm of acceptable human behavior. The film seems to know this, and acknowledges it through its side characters. But it still sets out to deliver the kind of scenes typical to this genre. It still fights to be cutesy, even when what's happening on screen is actually pretty dark. It still scores every event with light, vaguely romantic music. It frames the characters sympathetically, even when they get truly disgusting.
The story actually ends up in a fairly interesting place, but getting there becomes a real slog. These characters just keep doing terrible things to each other, and the film continues to pass it all off as goofy, pseudo-romantic claptrap. Toni Gonzaga is pushed to be the loudest, klutziest version of herself. She's meant to be endearing, but in the film's context, it comes across as a touch of psychosis. Piolo Pascual continues to be limited, the actor simply unable to get out of his own head.
Starting Over Again is stuck in a prison of convention. There's something more interesting going on in the background of this movie; a deeper, more mature understanding of how unfinished history can be toxic. But the film is trapped in mainstream aesthetics, where every conversation is a metaphor for what the characters are going through, because everything in the film has to be overly precious. In spite of the more mature ideas behind the picture, it just never feels real. The film fails to take its own advice. It's time to move on, but the film is intent on recapturing some old, caustic magic.