No quick fixes in Jodi Sta. Maria’s unconventional rom-com

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Jodi Sta. Maria (left) and Joseph Marco

Jodi Sta. Maria doesn’t generate a lot of sparks with screen consorts Joseph Marco and Xian Lim in Veronica Velasco’s “Dear Other Self,” but she imbues her character with faultless dramatic insight—and just enough joie de vivre and winsome whimsy—that viewers find themselves rooting for her character, regardless of the needless missteps she makes.

That pretty much sums up the film’s “relatability” to viewers. “Dear Other Self” is an odd cinematic brew because it doesn’t just present a potentially life-changing conundrum for protagonist Rebecca Macadaeg (Sta. Maria) to hurdle, it also boldly examines how her “alternative” choices could play out in the greater scheme of things.

Becky always puts other people’s needs ahead of hers. She dreams of “traveling the world before 30,” but spends much of what she earns from her job at an advertising firm providing for her loving but unceasingly cash-strapped family (Bodjie Pascua, Carla Martinez and Paul Salas, each creating “taung tao” characters with salt-of-the-earth likability).

Faced with a bad case of wanderlust, Becky then hits an existential fork in the road: Should she leave everything behind, let her family fend for itself (for a change), use what’s left of her savings to get what she craves, and spend the rest of her exciting “nomadic” life with gorgeous soulmate Henry (Xian Lim, who holds his own alongside his adorable costar)?

Other option

Becky’s other option is more “realistic,” however: Should she stay put, take care of her mom, dad, younger brother and his pregnant girlfriend, and find comfort in the cozy embrace of her dishy but inexplicably snooty officemate Chris (the bland and perpetually preening Joseph Marco)?

By utilizing an inventive storytelling tack to dramatize Becky’s “alternate” realities, the movie goes off the beaten track and makes its conflict more appealing to viewers who are tired of the “same-old, same-old” formula—a cue for moviegoers to take stock of their own lives.

Unfortunately, the film fails to end on a high note because it’s devoid of the flair and vision required to make its perfunctorily feel-good finale as “organically” limned as intended.

True, you can’t easily dismiss the fear of missing out when you think you’re stuck in a 9-to-5 job that limits your mobility. But, in Becky’s case, not enough light is shed on the crucial question that seeks to clarify why something like giving elephants a bath in Chiang Mai, or hobnobbing with strangers in a tourist commune would make life more satisfying for her.

No fairy tale

Life is no fairy tale, after all—and, regardless of how hard we work or how good our intentions are, we don’t always get what we want. And we can’t just rely on serendipity to give us our quick fixes. More than luck, however, hard work often does the trick.

The production hits a snag further when it begins “editorializing” about the whys and wherefores of its lead character’s decisions, and ends up with mere variations of the same viewer-pandering denouement.

Imagined as a “self-help for discontented millennials,” the film heavily banks on an otherwise compelling premise that Velasco fails to fully realize or utilize, so it eventually sags under the weight of its overreaching ambition.

It’s a good thing that the intuitive and transfixing Sta. Maria keeps the “urge to thespically splurge” in check by grounding her character’s motivations in reality.

As a result, the audience rallies behind Becky, even when she’s given some manufactured kwela moments to “sell” to the film’s rom-com-weaned audience—like her hackneyed “Fast Talk” sequence with Marco that runs longer than necessary.

To her credit, Sta. Maria hurdles this tricky balancing act with aplomb and fizzy flourish without going over the top.

Despite Velasco’s occasionally frivolous handling, the film has thought-provoking “nuggets of wisdom” to share with viewers: Time waits for no one, but there’s always a right time for everything.

Like Becky, the movie encourages the Confucian view that posits a perfectible human nature, which is more achievable if man were given the resources to realize his full potential.

Do we get better if we continually strive to become the idealized “other self” we aspire to be? The ball is in our court.

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