Whenever it comes to romantic comedy genre, I always find the “boxed concept,” comforting. But, when it comes to Prime Cruz’s latest film for Star Cinema—Can We Still Be Friends?, starring Arci Muñoz and Gerald Anderson—it brought me to an uneasy realization that the formula story can me unformulated; and that there’s a need for you to think out of the box, and finally come into conclusion that you cannot box love itself. Love will always be fluid, always be slick when it comes to revealing itself, and of course, it will never, ever ask for perfection—but for improvement on how you view it, how you feel it, and how you share it with your significant other.
The story revolves around the life of two sweethearts—the working girl Sam, who longs for a promotion and for a more “romantic” and “sparkly” form of love and her geeky comic book illustrator and writer, Digs. Sam, seeing her officemate Emmanuelle (played by the singer-actress Emmanuelle Vera) getting all the good stuff—good clients for their ad campaign, a gorgeous foreigner for a boyfriend, and a romantic proposal for marriage—it frustrates her, and wanted to get out of the routine of eating instant pancit canton with poached eggs and fried squid balls, cleaning their shared condo unit, feeding the dog (which will eventually die before the end of the film), playing videogames, and refilling the water bottles inside the fridge, and washing the dishes.
She seems to get tired of riding Dig’s sick car; his being unromantic as he always wanted to chill at home, watching movies on their TV or playing video games and the usual lovemaking when Digs wants to; for not refilling the empty water bottles in the fridge and for not helping her to clean up; and for the delayed payment for the condo, among other things.
The last straw which broke the camel’s back was when Digs never proposed to her, despite of the fact that they were eight years in steady relationship, and their friends played by Juan Miguel Severo ( JM, a gay who is about to marry his long time boyfriend) and Erika Padilla (who taught Arci/Sam how to use Tinder app) were constantly asking about it since they were college sweethearts. Sam asked for them to break up and Digs agreed. The two began dating—Sam gets to know the travel bug and pediatrician Trevor (Bryan Santos) and Digs, on the other had, got the party girl and chill girl, Cindy (Ria Atayde).
However, despite of their efforts to live apart for each other and to live their lives as they want to—they were still trapped in the fact that they still love each other. At the end, they were back in each other’s arms, kissing in the arcade, and having the water bottles filled; not only with water but with cucumbers (for the electrolytes) and that they still love the unhealthy pancit canton, matched with poached eggs.
A good film and… a bad one
Can We Still Be Friends? is a good film, but it is also somehow, a bad film. Yes, it was a paradox.
It is a good film for it has shown the power of love to heal wounds and to reconnect two souls, as happened to the two protagonists—Sam and Digs. Love, for all we know, never asks for perfection for it is perfect for itself, paraphrasing the words of Kahlil Gibran in his famous The Prophet.
Sam, in actuality, is not asking for perfection. She was just asking Digs to wake up and improve himself, which he did at the end of the movie.
It is not easy to get out of our comfort zones. And for Sam and Digs, their relationship for eight years has become their comfort zone, which unfortunately has become a quagmire that delimited their growth as a person and as a couple. Love, for all we know, is always fluid and it is always moving. It is like a plant that needs nourishment. It is not enough to water it everyday. You need also to get rid of the pests that spur its growth and you also need to fertilize it from time to time, to ensure that it will continuously grow.
Being complacent is different from being contented, which Digs failed to see. He thought his being chill and being there for Sam for companionship is enough to make her feel more secure, more comfortable.
However, love and loving can also be that uncomfortable and irritating. And that irritation is but a symptom of the need to level-up, a signal to review and revisit the reason why you are in love with that person, and why do you want to make that love work. And I think the perfect symbolism for this are the empty bottles in the fridge, the failure of Digs to clean up their small nook which they consider as their love nest, and the rejection of his comic book work by the publisher (and perhaps, even his failure to collect his paycheck on time).
Can We Still be Friends? is a good film because, the writer Jen Chuansu has the ability to inject humor even in the most difficult and most uncomfortable situation like when the time Sam didn’t get the promotion that she was dreaming of, or when she saw Digs in the grocery store and finds out that she has a girl with him, the ‘chill’ and the ‘cool’ Cindy (I really love the character of Ria Atayde in the movie. It fits her perfectly and she did play the role so well), or when she wants to find Digs’ new place it and bribed their friend, Brian Matthew Sy (Dino or Dins, a geeky guy also) a box of cheesy pizza just to take her to Digs (only to find out that Cindy was there, in her skimpy shorts and lose shirt, asking Digs to help her to win a stage in the video game that they were playing).
On the other hand, it is—somehow—a bad movie for it has put the entire burden of rebuilding that ruined relationship onto Sam’s shoulders. The writer had made her too weak, that she looked desperate of getting her old lover back. I think, the writer has forgotten that her character is a woman living in the 21st century and that most of the women in this era were independent and they are now emotionally stronger.
Besides that, the director and the writer have also failed to fill in some of the gaps in the story. What happened to the character of Cindy? And why the gay character of Severo has that monologue in his wedding (a wedding vow, actually which the reviewer of Cosmo magazine said, that probably it was one of the best parts of the movie), which tackles embracing imperfections as part of loving, while he is one of the people who pushed Sam to mingle and to find another love? Why Sam has become contented again and why does that feeling of “rivalry” against Emmanuelle has been gone? Is it that easy to let go of the feeling of discontent and longing for a better position at work, and somehow that feeling of envy against your colleague, which is in fact your junior?
I don’t know if it is the editing or the execution, or perhaps the story has already had it incurable flaw, that even good acting cannot conceal it?
I think that the writer should have been cautious on injecting some side stories, or perhaps she has tried to fix it by supplying the necessary facts into the side stories. Since she has used in medias res in the story, perhaps, Jen should be more careful knitting the stories all together to make it more compact, more related to each other, and more realistic.
Nevertheless, at the end, the movie is still commendable for it is your unusual romantic-comedy movie; and that the actors, especially Arci Muñoz definitely has done a very good job in playing the role of Sam—a hopeless romantic girl that has the power to transform an imperfect situation into a perfect state of affairs, where love again can grow and bloom and eventually, bear fruit.
Despite its flaws, the movie still deserves a big kudos, for it has brought the rom-com genre into a higher level for it has violated the formula story where you can predict the outcome or its end even without thinking. Just like what my friend working in one of branch of the Legislative Department said, it is well-made however, somehow lacking. That it should be longer; nonetheless, it is better than most Star Cinema romcoms. And I totally agree on what she said, even though my wife has some protestation with it, for it is the story of real people experiencing real situations and reacting to those situations realistically.