And when I say that this movie proves Sarah Geronimo and Gerald Anderson individually and together have the kilig down pat, it’s that someone my age, with my history of bad love, could actually still get kilig. Yes, kilig to the bones circa 1980s, complete with stomping foot, loud laughter, sinking into my movie seat, nudging elbows with my younger sister (ex-student now friend) beside me, in the end tired from the roller coaster ride that a two hour love story can still be. Kapagod pala kiligin. Some things I’ve forgotten.
In Catch Me I’m In Love, the kilig is difficult to ignore, as it carries what is an otherwise expected story through to its logical happy end. It’s also a surprisingly believable love between a girl and boy who are really only bound by country, and when I say that, I mean the government of the Philippines complete with scenes of Malacañang Palace.
Gerald plays Eric, presidential son, who’s unhappy with being in the Philippines and is sent by the President to a far away provincial community so he may learn of purpose. Eric is accompanied by Roanne (played by Sarah), an NGO worker who deals with nation from the grassroots level, a confident girl who inadvertently shoots down the presidential son at an awarding ceremony in her NGO. She is appointed by the President (Christopher de Leon) to be Eric’s mentor in living with a community he would otherwise not care about.
The rocky start is obvious, even more so in the context of impoverished Isabela: between waking up at 4 AM to walking long distances, Eric was beyond his comfort zones of clubbing, girls, the gym. Never mind, since all that would be forgotten by the time he comes home from Isabela and is in his words, “a better man” because of Roanne. She who challenged his spoiled boy sensibilities, pointed out in cliché terms the fact that what these children in impoverished communities need is time and attention, not money.
Eric was changed by the experience, Roanne was only in her turf. But Roanne’s intelligence and confident stance about nation was happening alongside her crisis as a girl, who wants to stand in front of a boy, and ask him to love her. This she will do at the end of the movie, but in the meantime she is just sad about her status as NBSB (no-boyfriend-since-birth to the unlearned in local pop culture), as she is teased by her three older brothers about it, as she is oblivious to the fact that the rapper neighbor Vito (played so well by Matteo Guidicelli) is trying to court her but doesn’t know how.
Suffice it to say that between Eric’s need to become a better presidential son, and Roanne’s dream (literally) of getting a love life, this movie set it up so it all seemed possible. It also speaks of NGO life and the nation it builds as wonderful, where changing the world begins with talking to people and knowing how they live — a great thing to see in a mainstream commercial movie.
It’s in this setting that the NGO worker and presidential son fall in love, without the trappings of the usual. After another trip where boy surprises girl in Isabela (that’s what I call going the distance), they come home to Roanne’s lower middle class family to tell them the truth: without the process of conventional courtship, they were now together (kami na, in the vernacular).
Which as it turns out is unacceptable to the general public who think Eric to be eligible bachelor, and who will make Roanne subject of tsismis, evil as that becomes: she doesn’t deserve him, she looks like a maid, it won’t last long. To add salt to wound, a socialite who is the complete opposite of Roanne in looks (Sam Pinto) enters the picture and makes like she’s out to win the presidential son. Now Sarah is no ugly girl, in fact she was overwhelmingly Pinay pretty in most the movie. But vis a vis the socialite and the trappings of a presidential dinner she pulls out that social class card and it just works.
In fact discomfort and insecurity is a game that Sarah plays well, and it’s in these moments of crisis that we see how she’s gotten better at acting, allowing us to forget her iconic character Laida Magtalas (her role opposite John Lloyd Cruz). In this movie, Sarah’s role as intelligent NGO worker comes in painful contradiction with the insecure girl-in-love, and when Roanne breaks down and breaks it off with Eric, Sarah proves a broken heart in real life does wonders for one’s acting.
Gerald meanwhile needs to get over the fact of his good looks, and into acting like it doesn’t matter. Because his role here is that of Fil-Am heartthrob, Gerald sometimes seems like he’s playing himself. Yet when he was an arrogant presidential son in the beginning, it actually worked; when he became the gentleman who would carry Roanne on his back because she had a sprained ankle, he knew to balance arrogance with machismo; when he became this boy who’s pushed against the wall by Roanne’s insecurities about herself that brings her to suggest they break up, Gerald’s helplessness as he asked “Kaya mo?” will melt your heart. And let you forget his abs.
Which is what there’s plenty of in this movie, generally un-needed since it’s done in relation to pagsasaka, and Sarah isn’t one to show some skin or have a kissing scene. If the goal was to establish Gerald’s, uh, hotness, then one scene with abs seems enough doesn’t it? Plus there are his good looks, which is used to the hilt in this film; and those eyes, the use of which Gerald has mastered.
Sarah meanwhile, has mastered this role of the lower middle class girl getting paired off with the rich guy, fulfilling the layers of impossibility in love. Now this isn’t a new role at all (think Judy Ann opposite Piolo Pascual, Marian Rivera opposite Dingdong Dantes), but it’s one that’s done only by Sarah in her age bracket. This is all fine, but maybe it’s time to give Sarah something she can sink her teeth into. After Laida and Roanne, it would do commercial audiences well to be shown a role that doesn’t peg Sarah to financial and emotional immobility because of love. Maybe a role that doesn’t put such a premium on the latter, and lets the intelligence and independence shine? Maybe a movie that stars as well that bunch of supporting characters who make for Star Cinema movies.
Ketchup Eusebio and Janus del Prado play two of Roanne’s brothers here. These two were not only comic relief, they point to the value of supporting characters that hold the main story up, and remind us of the travesties that surround the fact of star power in this country. That the infinitely talented Eusebio and del Prado are not starring in commercial films has become normal to us. That I dream for these two a bigger project, becomes possible given a star like Sarah, who I think will ably carry a film all her own, maybe with Eusebio and del Prado as (gay) friends to a Sarah without a big time love interest, if with love at all. Now that would be a powerful image, wouldn’t it. One that hasn’t been done before. Ah, the dreaming is what happens after the kilig.