How to be Yours hits the ground running. Within the first two minutes Anj (Bea Alonzo) and Niño (Gerald Anderson) spot each on the street, and the film sells us on their mutual attraction. They then hit it off at a party, and end up spending a night together talking. We learn through these conversations who these characters are. Niño is a career-motivated salesman. Anj cooks at a hip food stall in Kapitolyo. She likes cooking a lot, but she doesn’t seem to think of herself as someone who can really turn it into a career. Within the first act, the two are together, and they’re deliriously happy about it.
The film then becomes about what modern relationships are like. It follows the couple through the blissful first few months, when it feels like nothing could tear them apart. Even better, the two seem to making each other better. Niño is pushing Anj into new opportunities, encouraging her as she pursues her dreams. Anj, on the other hand, is helping Niño to find a life outside of his work. But their individual trajectories start pushing them away from each other. As Anj works harder to reach her personal goals, the less time she gets to spend with Niño. And in spite of the love that’s clearly still between them, resentment takes root, and things start to fall apart.
The film presents a very simple truth: relationships are hard, even when both partners are trying their best. This film isn’t about the kind of big issues that tend to fuel local romantic films. No one is tempted to stray. No one is dying of a mysterious disease. No one is lying about his or her true identity. This is just a story about two people madly in love that just can’t seem to make it work, an accumulation of minor slights slowly widening a rift between them. It is a remarkable romantic movie that still embraces the form while attaching itself to a reality much closer to our own.
It still clings somewhat to a very basic formula, but it enhances it with bracing detail. The film seems to really make an effort to make these elements work logically. It doesn’t just jump into the next phase out of a sense of narrative obligation. It works to give every moment an emotional foundation. When these two fight, one completely understands why it’s happening. When they make up, it feels fully earned. It sounds simpler than it is. A lot of romantic movies seem to just be filling in the blanks. If nothing else, this film seems to strain over every narrative decision, making it easy to care about the fate of the relationship on screen.
Even on the production side, this film seems to just try a little bit harder. There’s a passage of time sequence in here that’s pretty brilliantly conceived. Its big moments appear to be meticulously composed, the production design enhancing the scenes with glorious visual detail. And the film really gets terrific performances from its stars. Gerald Anderson and Bea Alonzo are just perfect in this film. It gets a lot out of the two even in the tiniest moments, their happiness infectious, and their sadness genuinely affecting. The film does trip up a bit with a couple of key supporting roles, but the appeal of the two leads more than makes up for any deficiencies.
How to be Yours is as good as I can imagine a local mainstream romantic film being. It very much works within the established structure of the genre, but it never allows itself to get lazy within that structure. It sets out to earn every moment, to convince the audience at every turn that this relationship is worth fighting for, that every problem that they face is a genuine tragedy. This is a film that believes that love is always a story worth telling, and not just some component of a larger commercial proposition.