Hello, Love, Goodbye’ is more than just a romance drama. It’s way more than that as it uses the genre to pivot into a wonderful story about the burden of responsibility, what we really owe to our family, to love, and to ourselves. Directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina and written by Garcia-Molina, Carmi G. Raymundo, and Rona Co (story by Carmi G. Raymundo), the film uses the genre to tackle the issues that plague many of our overseas foreign workers working as domestic helpers in Hong Kong, and the work and sacrifice that it takes to become a resident there. The love story that blossoms between Joy (Kathryn Bernardo) and Ethan (Alden Richards) becomes a focal point of everything that is gained and lost in an OFW’s life.
Garcia-Molina expertly manages to build the pace and sets the tone, presenting Hong Kong as a fast-paced world that requires determination and stamina to survive. We see this in Joy as she struggles with the weight of caring for the Chinese family that she works for while earning on the side, illegally, to raise money to move to Canada. She’s a nursing graduate, but a deep family issue has trapped her into the world of a domestic helper and within the first ten minutes, we come to realize that her life isn’t her own.
Everything changes, of course, when she meets Ethan. His story is very different. He’s aiming for residency. Unlike Joy, who can only work as a DH (so the work she does on the side is actually illegal), Ethan can stay and find any job in Hong Kong. He works as a bartender and he is smitten by Joy at her first glance.
But Ethan is a player and while he tries to make the moves on Joy, she’s way too focused on her plans of getting to Canada and moving her whole family there to bother with anything else, much less love.
In fact, the film starts on shaky ground because Ethan’s first impression with Joy is a cruel one. It starts off as a real bad joke that actually pissed me off and his relentless pursuit of her gets very annoying and frustrating as the film really digs deep into Joy’s struggles.
But magic happens when the characters finally open up to each other and Ethan begins to truly falls into Joy’s world. Through masterful direction and great writing, the story earns its romantic turn without ever sacrificing its social realist message about the OFW’s plight.
Everything from the dynamics of finding work in Hong Kong to the heavy burden of providing for family both in Hong Kong and back home in the Philippines is intertwined so wonderfully into the love story that it never feels too much like a message being forced down our throats.
It’s wonderful how the film, and director Cathy Garcia-Molina, knows how to turn this profound story and move it within the mainstream tropes without losing its heart. It is cheesy when it has to be, sentimental in the right way, and full of heart at the right moments that it hits all the right buttons. This is unapologetically a mainstream romantic drama, but it does it so well that it takes flight and revels in its genre.
Because of that awkward, even off-putting first meeting, Kathryn Bernardo and Alden Richard’s chemistry don’t quite strike gold on first glance. But like the characters in the story, their chemistry builds and grows until it hits its mark. Kathryn is best, though, alone. She gives a solid performance as she portrays Joy’s determination through the exhaustion and frustration her character feels. But when the love story truly begins, there is a shine that comes out.
Alden, on the other hand, is magical when he has to share a scene with other characters. But oftentimes, especially when the camera is focused entirely on him, he buckles and relies on being attractive. When he is sharing a scene with Kathryn or dealing with his own family problems with the scene-stealing Jameson Blake, who plays his younger brother Edward, he comes to life. But alone, he sometimes feels like he’s acting rather than being in the moment like in his other scenes.
Other than Jameson Blake, who does wonders with the few scenes that he has, the other standout performance is Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan, who plays Joy’s mother. This is an essential role with its own magnificent arc that truly hits hard at the last moment.
‘Hello, Love, Goodbye’ is way more than just a love story. It really delves deep into the choices that a person must make between love and family and one’s own dreams. It asks hard questions and is unafraid to depict hard situations, but still manages to maintain its tone and the conventions of the genre that it is in. There’s a whole lot of popular cheesy love songs that come in more often than I would prefer, but it’s exactly what this movie wants to do and it has earned it in spades.