It is very possible to like and be affected by a movie even if the movie is heavily flawed. That’s exactly how I felt about My Letters to Happy. Written and directed by Pertee Brinas and starring TJ Trinidad and Glaiza de Castro, ‘My Letters to Happy’ is a story about a relationship that is complicated by mental health issues. It’s a quiet and simple film with spectacular performances by Trinidad and de Castro that is bogged down by a weak script and some questionable directorial choices.
TJ Trinidad plays Albert, a stern and successful corporate man, who sinks into depression after tragedy strikes. His life takes a turn when he meets Glaiza de Castro’s Happy in a dating app. Vibrant, quirky, and full of life, the two cannot possibly be any more different from each other but sparks fly and they fall in love and then the story really begins. Because Happy, ironically, is bi-polar and Albert has to find the strength to keep his promise that he would love her forever.
It’s a simple story, really, a peek into a relationship and the challenges it faces when one of the partners is suffering from mental illness. It is never unnecessarily loud and it is done with a lot of sensitivity and care and putting the love between these two characters in the forefront.
With Trinidad and de Castro’s magnificent performances and strong chemistry, the film manages to still tug at the heartstrings even with some directorial choices that mar the film’s storytelling. ‘My Letters to Happy’ is shot what feels like 80% of the movie on a handheld camera that is constantly moving and trying to find its frame. I’m getting the impression that the film wants to try and approximate the unsteady inner world of people struggling with mental illness. Unfortunately, with this technique used almost throughout the film, it tends to distract and take us away from the moment that it does amplify the struggles of the characters. There are scenes where the camera, moving and finding its center, ends up cutting TJ Trinidad’s face during dramatic or tender moments.
At the same time, the script feels like a second draft where some conversations sound scripted, not in delivery but in content, like a contrived opening conversation between Albert and his mother. And there’s an unusual long segment of Albert and Happy meeting online and it’s an awkward cinematic moment as we spend more time reading than watching. The escalation of meeting online to meeting in real life seems rushed and unconvincing.
But the moment that Albert and Happy meet, magic happens. And this is due to Trinidad and de Castro, who wonderfully bring this relationship to life. Their performances make this love real with all its joys and struggles. Trinidad infuses Albert with so much strength that while dealing with Happy’s episodes must be exhausting, his devotion to her shines through. The tiny shifts of his character from where he is when we first meet him to where he ends up is just a careful buildup that you notice from his mannerisms and posture. It’s very good work.
But Glaiza de Castro continues to make waves taking Happy and turning her into something more than just a cliche. She masterfully captures an anxiety attack from its onset to its full force and you can see this in her physicality. From just the way she is throwing herself into the character, I knew she was bi-polar even before the film reveals it. It’s another breathtaking work from an amazing actress.
‘My Letters to Happy’ occasionally veers towards obvious advocacy, emphasizing in literal language the important takeaways that we must have about the struggles of mental illness but overall, it’s a lovely, simple story about love blooming under such circumstances. Even with all my complaints about the filmmaking, the film still manages to hit hard. I felt something in the gut at the end of the movie and recognized the depictions of mental illness in the movie and can relate it to actual people I know. I think the film is flawed but it does not take away from the beauty of its story as embodied by two great performances. It’s a movie I’d still recommend for people to watch.