There’s a lot more to ‘The Day After Valentine’s’ than just the romantic drama that it presents itself to be. All the trappings of a Pinoy hugot romance-drama play out in director and writer’s Jason Paul Laxama’s entry for the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP). The meet-cute happens when Kai (JC Santos) enters the thrift store that Lani (Bella Padilla) works at after closing hours on a night that she forgot to flip the open sign.
She discovers his dark secret as he buys arm warmers to hide the scars on his arm for where he cuts himself. Embarrassed at how she first approaches the subject, she invites him to grab a bite and they become fast friends. She then discovers that Kai practices self-harm because his world had turned upside down after the girl he gave up everything for had broke up with him, and now he feels lost and directionless.
As Kai attempts to help him get over his ex and to stop from his acts of self-harm, she begins to fall for him. This is Padilla in her wheelhouse. She’s mastered the ability to act tough and strong while telegraphing through subtle movements the feelings she won’t express out loud. She’s done this so well in films like ‘Camp Sawi’ and ‘Meet Me in St. Gallen’ and her skills at revealing her character’s inner conflicts are at full work here.
As the film plays the balancing act of a movie about getting over someone while falling in love with the other, it brings in concepts like baybayin and the historical connection of Filipinos to Hawaii (where Kai’s family is from). As Kai starts to feel better, he decides to return home to Hawaii to reconnect with his estranged parents and asks Lani to come with him, to ensure he won’t be stressed out and return to hurting himself.
Hinting at her own personal demons that she is running away from, Lani agrees and the film shifts into a travelogue of the island of Lanai in Hawaii. Here, the romance of Kai and Lani blossoms but is soon twisted upside down due to Lani’s personal demons, which are yet to be revealed and Kai’s shift in his own priorities now that his life is coming together and he is reunited with his family.
The final act of ‘The Day After Valentine’s’, which happens in the last quarter of the almost two hour running time, upends everything as the film reveals a new layer underneath. A layer that changes the perspective of Lani and Kai’s romance, reveals what she is running away from, and turns the film from a romantic-drama into a full-on drama with very dark undertones.
In ‘The Day After Valentine’s’, the romance genre is merely a disguise for what the film is really about, which is forgiveness and the ways with which we hurt ourselves and why. There’s a powerful story here with a great message that is wonderfully captured by its final scene, except the film’s disguise never quite fit well.
The biggest issue of ‘The Day After Valentine’s’ is that it never quite executes its bait and switch seamlessly. It goes full-on hugot romance, complete with very verbose dialogue between Lani and Kai that goes on forever. They talk about their feelings a lot and it gets cumbersome. The first hour is set up for the big rug pull at the last act, when the film is set to prove it is something else other than what you thought it would be. But instead of being surprised by the shift, it becomes quite jarring. It withholds Lani’s personal baggage for so long that when she acts irrational with regards to her blossoming relationship with Kai, it gets in the way of the romantic genre that the film is steeped in.
Of course it makes sense afterwards, but the whole experience of the first hour becomes tedious.
The world of ‘The Day After Valentine’s’ is also so small. It doesn’t feel like it's part of a bigger, functioning world. We never see them deal with anybody else unless relevant to the plot. We know they have jobs but it never seems to inform their world and it seems to afford them trips to Hawaii at a moment’s notice when Kai is implied to be a language teacher, while Lani works in a thrift store and gets paid to write the homework of “lazy high school students.” The film is so detailed and intricate with their feelings that it doesn’t provide enough suspension of disbelief that their professional lives can afford this major trip to the US.
A large portion of the film happens in Lanai, and there is that feeling of travelogue disguised as narrative. The attempt is there but it doesn’t quite slip in effortlessly. They visit every tourist area and talk about its history, the legend behind it, but it comes off as an advertisement with Lani constantly exclaiming how beautiful this all is, for every location they visit.
Santos and Padilla are great at their roles. This is something they do well — casual, conversational, natural — but this is something I’ve seen Padilla do before. In fact, I’ve seen it so often. I’d love to see her tackle a character that isn’t taken from this mold. I want to see her range because she’s mastered these roles already. She can do more, I’m sure, and seeing her in another character like this takes away from the surprise. It doesn’t feel new.
Because of its huge exposition that sets up a genre reversal, ‘The Day After Valentine’s’ feels bloated. It’s two hour running time felt like four hours. It has so many great scenes that get swallowed up by a lot of drawn out narratives. I wanted to like it, but I felt exhausted at the end of it that I couldn’t enjoy its beautiful ending sequence. This is a film that could have used a ‘less is more’ approach.