I love Antoinette Jadaone’s works. From ‘That Thing Called Tadhana’ to ‘I Love You to the Stars and Back’ to ‘Never Not Love You.’ Jadaone’s mastery of character and language has created a string of articulate and verbose films that breaks down the romance genre and subverts it into wonderful reflections of the Filipino experience. Jadaone has always managed to symbolize romance and love as some sort of journey — in her films, they are actual, physical journeys, going from point A to point B. But like any true cinematic journey, the characters undergo an internal journey as well.
In many books that I’ve read on writing stories — be it in cinema or fiction — a story is about change. Jadaone understands this, that many of her stories involve actual movement — that the destination is two-fold. The character’s change from the beginning of the film is so evident when you reach the end of the movie. She’s always had the best performances from her cast that all the facets of change is seen in her actors and actresses’ ability to convey their interior world.
This is where I feel that ‘Alone/Together’ doesn’t come up to the level of Jadaone’s other works. I’ve never seen Enrique Gil or Liza Soberano’s other works except for some episodes of ‘Dolce Amore.’ I was excited to see what they bring to the industry but I was left wanting more from the popular love team.
One of Jadaone’s selling points is her ability to dig deep into the mess of human emotions and the consequences that comes with the hard choices that we have to make to move on to the next stage in our lives. In ‘Never Not Love You,’ the characters need to negotiate the terms of growing up, and deal with the consequences of the compromises they have to make to live the lives they want for themselves. In ‘That Thing Called Tadhana,’ the spontaneous journey from NAIA to Mt. Kiltepan is also the character’s journey of letting go past hurts, processing the choices that they’ve made, in order to open themselves up to something new.
In ‘Alone/Together,’ the journey takes two idealistic college students, Liza Soberano’s art student Tin and Enrique Gil’s pre-med student Raf, as they struggle with their hopes and dreams as it comes head to head with reality.
The film’s two-hour running time gives us a glimpse on Tin and Raf’s innocence and idealism and how five years can drastically change their individual trajectories. In a film where the changes are so essential, Soberano and Gil seem to lack the necessary experience and pathos to make it work. There is a sheen and glossiness about them that subtracts from the messiness of the emotions that are brought about by disillusionment.
There is very little change happening in their posture and in their carriage. It’s in the messiness of Jadaone’s characters that truth and beauty of the dramatic situation shine through, and I don’t see it working its magic with Soberano and Gil. They are always so poised, so choreographed, so put together in their performances. There is hardly any real change in their gait or their manner as time goes by. Never do I see the shift Raf takes from errant med student into award-worthy doctor, nor do I see the heaviness of life strain upon Tin.
There’s no question the audience loves them. When their eyes lock, the audience in the whole cinema when I caught the film were swooning, but never did I feel the struggle or the heaviness of the narrative carry through. Jadaone has so much to say about disillusionment and facing the collision between our hopes and dreams and the reality of life’s curve balls. It’s messy and Soberano and Gil are never messy. That sheen of innocence and purity stays on them from beginning to end.
And maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy ‘Alone/Together’ as much as I do any other of Antoinette Jadone’s movies. The messiness, the hard-earned wisdom her characters earn through navigating the distances a single can choice can take you is never really fully realised in ‘Alone/Together.’ A lot of times, the story feels rushed, and then the message is summarized in an uncharacteristic monologue or exchange.
I was not prepared for something so neat and clean. Not from a story about picking up the pieces from shattered dreams and not from a filmmaker who manages to find beauty and truth in broken people. Maybe ten years ago, ‘Alone/Together’ would work with its clean and neat ending. But in this day and age of unrest and uncertainty, let broken things be broken and have artistic geniuses like Antoinette Jadaone show us how beautiful that can be, like she has in her past works.