One of the big dramatic moments of Way Back Home has one of the main characters yelling at her sister for having the gall to wash her hedgehog plushie. She freaks out to an extent that just doesn’t seem comprehensible anymore. And that’s largely the problem with this film. The writing goes overboard in trying to depict the conflict between the sisters, and in the process, loses touch with the truth at the core of the story. When all is said and done, the film wants the audience to be happy for both characters in the end, but one of them just doesn’t seem to deserve it.
Years ago, sisters Jessica and Joanna (Julia Montes and Kathryn Bernardo) were watching turtles on the beach, when the two are accidentally separated. Joanna wanders off, and her family is unable to locate her. Twelve years later, their mother (Agot Isidro) has been unable to move on, while Jessica has come to resent the distance that’s grown between them. Joanna, meanwhile, has been living a simple life in Zambales, knowing nothing about her true identity. That is, until, she runs into her family at a swim meet. Joanna is brought home to a family she’s never known, and Jessica struggles with the attention being showered on her newfound sister.
The film immediately gets into trouble with the clunky way that the family loses Joanna. It all starts out with the parents leaving their two young daughters unattended in the middle of a crowded beach. Granted, they were tending to the needs of their vomiting son, but it’s completely unreasonable to have them leave their two younger daughters alone. Sympathy is something the film struggles with throughout its runtime. The film asks the audience to be invested in the plight of both sisters, but it makes one of them a complete shrew. At some point, Jessica stops being a character and becomes nothing more than a dramatic device. She’s there to cry and pout and complain about a sister who hasn’t really done anything wrong.
The film might have benefitted from the fleshing out of another character. It might have helped to see the mother more as the sisters fought, perhaps dealing with the accusations that her errant daughter laid down. The film actually makes a fair insight into the relationship between Jessica and her mother, and the resolution is actually reliant on what we’ve seen between the two. But the mother all but disappears in the second act, never really dealing with the issues that become so important in the end. The time that could have been spent fleshing this out is instead spent on a couple of inert romantic subplots and a plethora of fish jokes.
Actors don’t really come off well in mainstream melodramas. The heightened emotions chip away at the truth of their performances, usually pushing them to overact. Case in point: Agot Isidro. Isidro is best in moments of quiet dignity, but this film doesn’t provide that kind of platform. She instead goes into hysterics, which just looks alien on her. Julia Montes is unable to overcome the unlikability of her character. To be fair, there’s just nothing in the script for her to hold on to. Kathryn Bernardo acquits herself best, with a fairly simple style of delivery that proves to be pretty effective.
Way Back Home really miscalculates in portraying the trouble between the sisters. It seems to expect the audience to feel sympathy for a completely unreasonable character. Rather than take the time to help the audience connect with that character, the film instead swells the music and lets the crocodile tears flow. There are kernels of truth embedded in all this artifice, but the film is just too caught up in ramping up the melodrama.