In the landscape of Philippine cinema, it seems that the past few years has shown that the romantic movies — whether comedy or drama — always dominates the box office. As a filmgoing country, we are obsessed with love teams. Oftentimes, what happens off-screen affects what happens on-screen. The interplay of the two narratives is always taken into account. Chemistry is cinematic currency and when two incredible actors like Angelica Panganiban and Carlo Aquino, who have their own history, are joined in a film, you are almost assured that movie magic is going to happen.
It would have been easy for director Dan Villegas and screenwriter Dwein Baltazar to phone it in and leave it all up to the more than capable skills of their two leads, but Villegas and Baltazar weave a narrative that not only showcases Panganiban and Aquino’s strengths as actors but also gave them a meaty story to tackle in ‘Exes Baggage.’
As the title suggests, this is a movie that delves into the weight that our past relationships can burden us with as we try to move on. ‘Exes Baggage’ is about Nix (Carlo Aquino) and Pia (Angelica Panganiban), who meet again after two years since their break up at a celebration of a friend’s bar opening. As they play cat and mouse in the crowded establishment, we are brought back into the past to see how they first came together leading up to their eventual break up.
Baltazar’s script is tight and is so precise in creating a whole world for Nix and Pia to inhabit, but never strays too far from the film’s theme of dealing with your baggage. The past continues to haunt these characters but Villegas is clever enough to never emphasize this. The symptoms of the past hurts are seen in little details here and there that manage to pile up as the narrative progresses, until it begins to burst out of the seams. It’s a rather sharp script and Villegas knows exactly how to let it trickle and gain momentum without overplaying his hand.
And Villegas expertly captures on screen every little nuance that Aquino and Panganiban delivers with each line. The two leads are such good actors that their whole bodies telegraph the intricacies of their complex thoughts. Both in the present day and the flashbacks, the characters carry their past hurts with them and Aquino and Panganiban embody these hurts subtly that enriches each of their scenes.
They go through the whole gamut of a relationship — from the honeymoon stage to when reality kicks in and compromises are made — every joy, every resentment is embodied in their delivery, in the way they carry themselves.
What makes ‘Exes Baggage’ soar to even greater heights is the amazing chemistry between Panganiban and Aquino. Yes, we are aware of their offscreen story and they use their trust and vulnerability to create unbelievably intimate moments that sizzle and explode in the cinema. You never question the emotions running rampant through the film because the chemistry is off the charts.
With their chemistry alone, Aquino and Panganiban could have made a mediocre film a box office success. But Villegas and Baltazar hit all the right emotional beats, building a story that proves the age-old theory that one cannot find happiness in any endeavor if they haven’t learned to make peace with their past. It’s a prominent theme in many of the contemporary love stories we are seeing on screen, but ‘Exes Baggage’ carves its own space and feels so fresh and original.
‘Exes Baggage’ is sexy, fun, heartbreaking, and enlightening in every way. It never takes shortcuts, nor does it ever feel melodramatic.