‘Between Maybes’ is a meditation on loneliness, stillness, and finding yourself in Saga, Japan. John Paul Laxamana’s latest film starring Gerald Anderson and Julia Barretto works in within the romance genre but it is best when it is viewed as a coming-of-age story and a story of finding yourself after running away.
Gerald Anderson plays Louie, a Filipino living in Saga, Japan, who has a very quiet, isolated life working as a delivery man for fish and as a waiter in a restaurant. His quiet existence is jolted awake when he meets Julia Barretto’s Hazel, an entitled, spoiled former child star, who is now 21 and is running away from a career that is fading from her grasp and from her parents who make her feel more like a cash cow than a child.
Their first meeting is disruptive -- Hazel is used to being fawned over and adored and she is nonplussed when Louie doesn’t even know who she is -- as Hazel commands Louie to take her around since she’s lost. Louie, through the kindness of his heart, decides to bring her back to her hotel but we see hints as to why he would allow this entitled, spoiled, fading celebrity order him around and break the peace and quiet of Saga.
Saga, Japan in itself becomes a character -- it’s a quiet, lovely prefecture -- and its effect on Louie is evident. He is quiet and not given to large displays of emotions. He’s constantly reminding Hazel to tone herself down and this becomes a pattern in the film as Hazel is finally being told off.
‘Between Maybes’ is a romantic movie, the friendship that is built in the few days that Louie and Hazel spend together becomes the catalyst for a marked change in the two characters. Hazel, in this quiet place where no one knows her, is finally given a chance to think and evaluate her life and to actually grow up and take stock of who she is and where she would want to head towards. She’s 21 and she has her whole life ahead of her. While for Louie, his isolation is pierced by this extraordinary individual and it allows him to question the reasons he has for choosing this life.
As a romantic movie, I feel uncomfortable seeing Julia Barretto and Gerald Anderson together. I guess I haven’t properly absorbed the idea that Julia Barretto is now 21 and I know that Gerald Anderson is way older than that. It is also because Julia’s Hazel is very sheltered, her character is such a child and Barretto actually plays off this very well. It creates the aura of youth that makes the romantic aspects of the film a little uncomfortable because the age difference is so strong visually.
In fact, it isn’t helped by the fact that this is one of Gerald Anderson’s most nuanced performances that I’ve seen. He is a shell of a person. He is quiet and still and there are emotions that he shows off in how he cocks his head, raises his eyebrow, or changes posture. He’s acting with his whole body and it gives you this feeling that he’s older, that he’s been through so much.
This creates a glaring age disparity between the two that it makes it uncomfortable to see. But the chemistry is there. I think it’s a daring move to put Julia Barretto in a role like this and more roles like this will help ease audiences to her growing up. She’s captivating when Hazel gets pensive or emotional. Julia Barretto doesn’t quite nail the comedic aspects of the character and overplays it. But when she attacks the dramatic sequences, she’s lovely.
But outside the context of the romance film, ‘Between Maybes’ is a wonderful rumination on fame and on being still and quiet and growing up. It’s about two lost souls coming together and healing each other by allowing each other the space they need to grow. Of all the Jason Paul Laxamana films I’ve seen, this might be my favorite.