The Third Party starts in 2009, where Andi (Angel Locsin) was a year into a relationship with Max (Sam Milby). She breaks up with him a year later, unwilling to put up with a long distance relationship as he studies medicine in the US. He returns in 2014, only to dash Andi's hopes for getting back together with by introducing her to his boyfriend, Christian (Zanjoe Marudo). The film finally gets to 2016, where the struggling Andi discovers that she's pregnant with the child of a boyfriend that has just left for Canada. Christian, who has been trying to move his relationship with Max to the next level, offers to adopt her child, and take of Andi while she's pregnant.
The tears come early and often in this movie. We are hardly ten minutes in before the big breakup between Andi and Max, the film breaking out the waterworks in literally the second sequence that these characters are in. And it isn't very long before someone is crying again. And there is something to be said about a movie that puts its feelings front and center. But The Third Party mistakes crying for genuine emotion. It seems to make its characters cry in lieu of telling their stories or letting them hash out the complexity of what they're feeling.
The characters, in fact, cry so much as to render their tears meaningless. Tears can be an effective tool in a storyteller's repertoire. They can heighten a moment, the act of crying a powerful emotional cue that indicates the importance of a scene. But tears have to be earned. You have to build up to them. The effect is dulled when the characters seem to be crying in every other scene. There is no arc presented, the film leaning on the tears to convey developments that don't seem to be written into the script. It seems to resolve issues off screen, the crying turned into a crutch to indicate that things have gone as far as they can.
The story does try to touch on a couple of interesting ideas. It is a little remarkable that there is a mainstream film that might be willing to discuss gender fluidity at all. The film doesn't get very deep into it, but there's some merit in bringing it up and letting the concept just sit there out in the open. But the plot itself is bogged down by too many subplots. This unusual situation at the center of the movie apparently isn't enough. Andi has issues with her mother, and Max has been putting off coming out to his parents. And then time has to also be spent on side characters that seem to exist solely to voice out what is already implied.
Every now and then, the movie displays a pretty distinct sense of humor. It would work a little better if it wasn't buried among all the crying, but the little attempts at weirdness give the film a measure of personality. The three main players are mostly fine in their roles. Of the three, Sam Milby is kind of the weak link, unable to fully convey the insecurities of his character through his formidable facade. Angel Locsin and Zanjoe Marudo fare better, the film gaining new life in the few scenes that they share together. The two just seem to have a real grasp of who these people are and what makes them tick.
The Third Party has some ideas worth exploring. As clumsy as the handling is sometimes, there are moments where the film displays an understanding of non-traditional families that is always welcome in what is still a generally heteronormative cinematic era. But the film loses its gumption, and the ideas are lost in the tsunami of crying that follows. The film just doesn't do enough work to earn the tears that show up on screen. It doesn't build up to these big moments, the emotions feeling hollow in the end.