Photo from Alone/Together (2019), dir. Antoinette Jadaone

(WARNING: This review contains spoilers from the film.)

Fresh from her movie with JaDine, Antoinette Jadaone leads LizQuen to heights the famed love team has yet to reach in their careers. Alone/Together delivers a satisfying take on a romance abrupted and an individual disenchanted. However, as weightful as the movie may be, it was a frustrated piece that easily could’ve been more provocative if only it were braver.

Alone/Together is best viewed as a personal work by a director whose views are shared by Liza Soberano’s Christine—young, idealistic, and hoping to change the world. However, as she ages, she soon realizes that the world is harsh and unforgiving on her ilk. Both Jadaone and Christine are University of the Philippines (UP) students, and the film plays on their fears and squanderings about leaving university life, surely shared by most other idealistic university students. Here, we should commend Liza Soberano for delivering a realistic and powerful performance. While far from perfect, it stands as a great improvement from her past oeuvre.

Enrique Gil’s Raf, a realistic student just struggling to get by, complements Tin’s character. As both of them mature, their characters take a 180-degree turn, becoming stark contrasts to who they were, though still complementary to each other. During their stay in New York, it was the attitude of an idealistic Raf who shows to a realistic Christine a reflection of who she was when she was young.

Those expecting a UP-University of Santo Tomas (UST) romance may be disheartened to learn, with the sole focus on Christine and scenes from UST being cut, that the film is not the inter-university love affair marketed to them. More aptly, it is the journey of a lost individual to self-actualization.    

Frustrations and what-ifs are the themes of Alone/Together, and as its characters struggle to reconcile these with the pressing reality, it’s only fitting for the viewer to approach the movie also asking themselves what could have been for them, had they taken different directions.

But since inquiries of ‘what-ifs’ rule the philosophy of the movie, it is also tempting to ask,  “What if the movie went with a more radical storyline?”

The prospect that the movie would instead feature a pessimistic Tin brooding over her personal failures and shortcomings in the face of a successful ex-lover, when their positions were reversed before they broke up, would’ve made for a unique compelling drama. However, this is a mainstream film featuring a mainstream love team, so here we are, forced into a romance and a frustrating ending where ‘boy gets together with girl’ when it should have been ‘girl independently reconciles with herself and her future’.

Another missed opportunity to incite a more radical narrative was their stay in New York. Here, we witness Raf and Tin spending time with one another intimately, while the idea of their significant others back in the Philippines loomed over their conscience. Most are turned off by this, calling it emotional cheating. But here, I have to dissent. While the film backs away, revealing that Raf broke up with his significant other before being all intimate with Tin, I’d argue that the film should’ve gone with the cheating angle entirely at full force.

The plot should have been about two disenfranchised lovers reclaiming their narratives even if it were just for a moment. New York should have been the space to regain their relationship and their previous selves, even if it were just a fantasy. It’s wrong, yes, but to bravely tread in these waters would have added much more weight to the story.

Other criticisms that can be gleaned from the film include its use of the Spoliarium art piece, although the use of the Spoliarium song is only apt. The painting was watered down to fit the mainstream narrative when it had the potential to be used for its heavier allegory. Moreover, the few seconds in the beginning where Tin looked straight to the camera saying ‘Never Forget’ also feels like lip service, while it could be a glimpse of what the narrative could have been.

Some may also be disgruntled by the uneven narrative pacing. Information is broken down for the audience to piece together—sometimes in bits and sometimes in a heavy flow. However, this can be reconciled if one sees its narrative framed as though Tin and Raf’s college days were distant memories of present day Christine. It may still be disconcerting for the viewer to be attached to the romantic couple using this framing device, but here enters the primary frustration of the film—that it shouldn’t have been treated as a love story in the first place.

There are a lot of ‘coulds’ and ‘shoulds’ in the movie; but for what it actually is, it is satisfying enough. The movie can be looked at as a balancing act– a film safely banking on its stars and its formulaic narrative to earn, and as a work by a director direly wanting to tell a thoughtful personal message. Whatever it is, audiences may very well be inspired to reconcile with their lost selves, just as Jadaone and Christine did.

Alone/Together is still showing in cinemas nationwide.

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