Breaking the cycle: ‘That Thing Called Tadhana’
Written by Michael Alegre
I have a confession to make…
I don’t like Filipino movies as much as I do foreign films. I find them cheesy/baduy. The jokes are corny, the action is ridiculous, and the stories are cliché. What’s even worse is the recent trend of commercialization of a film, essentially turning movies into giant sales pitches. It’s appalling. Every now and then there are some that stand out, but for the most part, Filipino movies deteriorate into the same worn-out molds. Who cares about quality filmmaking as long as it’s making money off of Kris Aquino’s kid, right?
That said though, I DID enjoy That Thing Called Tadhana. It’s one of those few movies that break said mold. Which is why, for the first time in my life, I’m reviewing a Filipino-made movie. (Insert applause here)
‘That Thing Called Tadhana’ follows the story of two strangers who become unlikely friends. Anthony (JM De Guzman) meets a recently broken up girl (Angelica Panganiban) at an airport. He becomes somewhat of a soundboard to the girl’s heartaches and the two drown in their conversations about love, life, fate, regret, and everything in between.
The whole movie is essentially one long conversation between the two sole characters (Think Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise-Sunset-Midnight trilogy). They change venues a few times, but nothing flashy ever happens; it’s just focused on the extensive dialogue. The movie is made to feel like we’re just listening in.
It’s a very unusual and risky format. Without an engaging subject and the proper handling, it can get really boring really quick. But Tadhana manages to pull it off with its painfully relatable content, its occasional humor, and the careful pacing to keep viewers absorbed.
It starts off pretty cold. Panganiban’s acting in the first act seems a bit over the top. She gets really annoying as this hung-over ex-girlfriend. Even her profanities sound pretentious. But after a while it starts feeling more natural and candid and the chemistry between the two actors grows stronger. What first felt voyeuristic eventually feels like we are hanging out with them, making it that much more personal and grounded. From then on I just enjoy the ride, listen and tag along where their strange little adventure leads them to.
The crowd cracked up at Angelica Panganiban bawling over a movie or her ex. I’m assuming it’s because they could see themselves in Angelica’s character and that her hysteria was at one point their hysteria. Goes to show just how strong and relevant the movie’s subject is to the Philippine market.
The movie talks about break ups, getting over someone, finding new romance, opportunities, missed opportunities, hell, it even touches on some friend-zone and rebound territory. Ultimately it talks about the concept of destiny – whether the world works to guide you towards the person you’re meant to be with, or that it’s a bunch of baloney, and that you should fight for what you want. In the end, the movie doesn’t explicitly say what “That Thing Called Tadhana” is. But that’s what’s great about the movie: your personal ideologies will affect what you take away from the film. You are left to decipher its fundamental message, and it can mean what you need it to mean.
The movie’s allure lies in its simplicity and honesty. It is not bogged down by complicated backstories, or hourly plot twists. It’s about two people – a girl who’s broken-hearted, and a guy who wants to help. They talk, and travel and eventually find comfort in each other. And the way their conversations were written was the opposite of cheesy. It tried to stay as realistic as possible. The vulgar language, the references to other Pinoy movie lines, the awkward breaks within the dialogue all contributed to the whole thing feeling more genuine.
Even the humor is written to be inconspicuous. The audience would laugh (and kilig) at the simplest things, like a character quoting a movie, or the two saying the same thing at the same time, or Anthony taking a pass at the girl. They weren’t forthright “jokes” (like in Vice Ganda or Kim Chiu movies), they were more like colloquial humor, things you laugh about while having a casual conversation with a friend. No slapstick (or at least minimal slapstick) from Tadhana and just a few well-timed light laughs and low-key wittiness which I thoroughly appreciated.
Though the film was modest in its structure and script, it’s actually pretty smart beneath the surface. There were a lot of little things you spot while watching – like its allegory of the girl’s emotional baggage with her ACTUAL baggage (which was amusingly literal, btw), and the reflective story about the arrow through the heart, and its open-to-interpretation ending. It even got a little meta with all the John Lloyd jokes. Those were not lost on any of the audience.
Tadhana is a unique love story that keeps itself level-headed. It wasn’t the usual kiligfest but it DID have its moments especially with the help of its perfectly positioned soundtrack and the scenic destinations it featured (The only thing this movie is guilty of advertising is the Philippines!). Every place, every song, were all calculated to pull on your heart strings.
Kudos to the two actors who carried the whole film. Like I said, Angelica Panganiban’s acting eventually grew on me. Her emotions were strong and painfully raw, while JM De Guzman (or ‘Young John Estrada’, as I like to call him) complemented Panganiban with his muted but warm performance. And of course, none of this would have been possible without Director Antoinette Jadaone’s refined hand on the helm.
That Thing Called Tadhana had TWO characters, a whole lot of talking, AND I was a total cynic going into this, yet I still found myself having a good time at the cinema. That’s a HUGE testament to how good the writing, acting and directing of the movie was. It was grounded, unpretentious, and delightful. To be able to carry a movie with conversation and wit is a feat in itself, but where Tadhana truly deserves credit for is in trying to break Pinoy cinema tradition of cheesiness, camp, and commercialization. THIS is how Pinoy movies should be moving forward – innovative, artful, out of the box; a movie that has story and delivery at its heart rather than the spectacle and celebrity.