Past Tense starts out in 2034, with Belle (Ai Ai de las Alas) waking up from a twenty-year coma. Papa Time (Benjie Paras) shows up in her hospital room and offers to take her back in time so that she can change her fate. She returns to 2014, on the day when her younger self (Kim Chiu) would meet Carlos (Daniel Matsunaga) and set off the chain of events that would lead to her coma. Failing to prevent the meeting, she then tries to change the future by helping her then-best friend Babs (Xian Lim) win over her younger self.
It’s a really high-concept plot for what amounts to a fairly basic romcom. The time travel shenanigans don’t really factor all that much in the story in the end. The older Belle mostly fades into the background in the latter half of the story, doing very little to affect the relationship dramatics of the younger Belle and Babs. Rather than enhancing the story, the concept mainly adds needless complications to the plot. The movie is forced to explain why the older Babs looks nothing like her younger counterpart. It has to contrive ways to have the characters keep her around, even when it doesn’t really make sense anymore.
The core story feels like it’s been done before. It is another story of a guy in love with his best friend, who is oblivious to his affections. And this story has always been problematic, because what is usually played as sweet in this scenario can come off as a little icky. The film never really makes much of a case for Babs. He is portrayed as a nice guy, but his quiet pursuit of Belle isn’t actually very nice. That he seems to feel entitled to her affections feels a little gross.
To the film’s credit, it seems to acknowledge the toxicity of the situation somewhat. But the hint of self-awareness doesn’t entirely acquit the film, especially as it heads into its foregone conclusion of an ending. It doesn’t really seem to matter just how much these characters actually hurt each other, or how low they manage to go. The characters give up their humanity in the name of the almighty kilig, their issues magically resolved in a wave of vaguely emotional declarations. The movie doesn’t actually do much to earn these developments; it just insists that they happen anyway.
The movie feels really clunky in spite of the mostly charming turns from the three primaries. Ai Ai de las Alas and Kim Chiu are pretty much forced to go broad in order to create easily replicated mannerisms, but the two actresses commit wholly to the absurdity of the conceit, and deliver a pair of winning performances. The fat suit doesn’t do Xian Lim any favors, but he does well enough for the most part. He gets to play sweet in this role, and though the writing sometimes makes that feel icky, Lim benefits from the change of pace.
Past Tense feels like a bunch of stray ideas stuck together. There’s some interesting thinking in there, but it ends up being mostly tossed aside in favor of a basic romcom setup. While the film’s bouncy direction gives it some energy, and the cast gives it everything they’ve got, the core of this movie just isn’t very interesting. It is, in fact, a little ugly. It’s filled with characters that aren’t really worth rooting for: a bunch of people who do and say terrible things to each other. And the movie is convinced that their happiness means something, even if they do nothing to really earn it.