Friday, August 10, 2018

Review of DITO LANG AKO: Faith in Forever

August 9, 2018

Everyday, Lola Nelia, an elderly lady with beginning dementia, sat outside the Blade Auto Center along Timog Avenue, patiently waiting for the arrival of a certain Delfin. While waiting, she told her grandson with her how she, then a salesgirl at this very same Blade store, met Delfin, the charming mechanic working next door. One fateful afternoon, young Nelia would soon realize that there may not be a forever in store for the two of them. However, Lola Nelia still believed in their forever up to now.

To suggest that these events happened in the 70s, the guys wore bell-bottom pants and Niknik shirts. There were also posters of Darigold Milk and Sunta on the walls along the street. They tried to make the "old" Blade store look older (although I think there were no Blade stores yet 40 years ago), even hiding the buildings beside it. They put a layer of brown dirt on the steps and sidewalk in the front of the store. The phone in the store still had a rotatory dial. The stock mainly consisted of Christmas tree shaped air-fresheners very common before. The sales staff only wore simple red t-shirts with the company name on it. 

The story was the stuff of many a Filipino film or TV melodramatic soap opera -- the seemingly perfect pair of lovers who turned out to be star-crossed. The way the dialog was written sounded stilted and unnatural. It was as if the young people of forty years ago in the 1970s spoke pure unadulterated poetic Tagalog, which we know for a fact was not the case. The pickup lines used by Delfin and his rival Victor were as cheesy and corny as the hopia and siopao (pork bun) they used to woo Nelia.

Their awkward lines hampered the performances of Hashtag member Jon Lucas (as Delfin Torres) and Akihiro Blanco (as the Blade store owner's son Victor Fernandez). Their acting mostly consisted of put-on swag in order to get the girl. (Their hilarious face-off in front of Nelia can already be seen in the trailer.) Lucas somehow got to redeem himself acting-wise later on in the story when his character decided on a difficult sacrifice. Blanco was not given such an opportunity. (Veteran Freddie Webb had a key role to play, but sadly gave a wooden unsatisfying performance.)

Michelle Vito's performance as young Nelia was a major plus of the film. She is indeed attractive to have two young men vie over her love and affection. She can really turn on the waterworks (and still remain pretty) during her seriously dramatic conversations with her father (Rey "PJ" Abellana) and those with Mrs. Torres (Jennifer Dadivas). Vito was a revelation for me since this is the first time I am seeing her in anything. 

The other saving grace of the film was casting Boots Anson-Roa as Lola Nelia. This was a wise move because this beloved actress is very likable and it is easy to empathize with her obsessive longing and despair waiting patiently for man she truly loved. Only a rare actress like her can transcend the corniness of her dialog ("Balikan natin yung hopiang binigay ni Delfin!") with her elegance and dignity. 

Frankly, this whole film felt like an advertisement for Blade Auto Center, since most scenes from both the present day and the past where shot in its premises. Vito and Blanco had on a Blade t-shirt in practically all of their scenes while going over the store's inventory. There were also several cameos of various Blade family members and employees, as well as local internet celebrities like Senpai Kazu, Roadfill of comic duo Moymoy Palaboy and even James Deakin, which were funny in a groan-inducing way. 

These distractions sort of affected the dramatic progression of the film, but anyhow, director Roderick Lindayag did try his best to accommodate his producers' wishes (I was told that this film was a dream project of Blade Auto Center owner Robertson Sy Tan to pay tribute to his family) without completely losing the flow of the story. Despite its familiar theme and shortcomings, this film still worked as a dramatic rom-com, mostly thanks to the performances of Ms. Vito and Ms. Anson-Roa. It was still a pleasant watch overall, especially for those who like cute moments of romantic thrill and a good cry. 5/10. 

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