In my review of A Very Special Love, I wrote that despite liking some parts of the film, I was generally frustrated with it because of its inability to escape its kilig-centric approach to love, never really earning the intense, weighty drama that’s present in the movie. And now, its sequel You Changed My Life enters cinemas, and though it’s still rough around the edges, it does a lot to improve what came before it. You Changed My Life is more mature, more developed, and a far more balanced film.
The film picks up where the last movie left off. Migs Montenegro and Laida Magtalas (John Lloyd Cruz and Sarah Geronimo) are now in a committed relationship, and are deliriously happy. But six months into their relationship, Migs gets promoted and sent to Laguna to manage his family’s industrial laundry business. Migs quickly realizes that he’s bitten off more than he can chew, and soon finds himself having trouble keeping his workforce happy. The long hours and added responsibility keep Migs from spending time with Laida, who begins to feel that she’s not getting enough out of their relationship. As Migs struggles with the pressure, and Laida begins to feel abandoned, the two are finding it difficult to find reasons to stay together.
The first act of this movie is still pretty rough. In a mad rush to remind audiences of everything that was in the first film, the movie rapidly goes through some clunky exposition and does an encore of all the kilig stunts that gave the last movie its identity. But then the film turns a corner, and it begins a process of deconstructing the relationship and really developing the characters. Laida finally reveals her flaws, subtle as they are, and Migs stumbles head-on to making wrongheaded decisions about their business. And suddenly the stunts don’t work, and their love is tested in a fairly realistic manner. And as they’re forced to make more mature decisions, their relationship actually begins to mean something.
The film still leans on some of its old tricks, and some things still come too easy. A subplot about an old friend of Laida’s (Rayver Cruz) largely leads nowhere, and only sets up a bunch of artificial conflicts for the couple. But for the most part, it feels like an active effort was made to earn the movie’s sentiment. Genuine character development takes the place of empty romantic gestures, and that’s the critical difference between this movie and the last. There’s this strange acknowledgement that romantic stunts may not really be a good basis for a strong relationship, and that both these characters needed to grow up and have something more than an empty, cutesy love for them to flourish as a couple and as their own person. I complained last time about how the relationship could never justify what Migs went through with his family. Here, the stronger part of the story, Migs’ familial issues, becomes the catalyst for making the relationship something greater than it was. And the difference in effect is startling.
Technically, the film’s taken a slight step back. It feels a little more rushed than usual, and the overall look of the film suffers for it. Some scenes fare better than others, but inconsistent color grading and gain plague the project. Some scenes could’ve used more coverage, as well. The cast remains largely the same. John Lloyd Cruz has his ups and downs, and when it counts, he delivers. Sarah Geronimo goes a lot larger with the goofiness in this film, which can be distracting, but she makes up for it in the smaller scenes. There’s really an honesty to her performances that’s endearing, and I think it’s about time that we get her into more serious roles. Rayver Cruz works well enough in his role, though he does feel a bit shoehorned in. For my money, the best thing in this cast is Rowell Santiago, who hits exactly the right notes in his softer scenes, providing the film with much of its real emotional punch.
For me, the film started out really shaky, but it just won me over. It did practically everything that was keeping me from loving the first film, giving weight to the central romance and just making more mature choices all together. The film still hasn’t shed its juvenilia completely, but now it serves as an accent rather than a focus, and the story benefits as a whole for it. It’s still far from perfect: entire subplots could be dropped without much effect, the screenplay could be a lot tighter, and the filmmaking could’ve been less rushed. But overall, it’s an improvement, providing the most important thing of all: a love worth fighting for.