Romance films seem to have long decided where broken hearts go. The consensus point to the vermilion warmth of a bonfire, in the company of good music and nature-greased bodies, sitting cozily on bean bags, and tasting the salt coalesce into summertime breeze.
In the new Paul Soriano film, “Siargao,” broken hearts litter its beach, adrift and hollow like unsightly debris in an otherwise pristine paradise. Those hearts belong to Diego (Jericho Rosales), Abi (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), and Laura (Erich Gonzales), but I wonder if they’re all that important. Clearly, the film is besotted with its setting more than it is with its characters. As one local notes: one does not fall in love in Siargao, only with it.
Which works for ecosexuals. But sadly not for Diego—or as his local friends call him, Jigs—who I’m sufficiently certain favors humans over nature. Of course, it’s difficult not to point how adeptly he rides the Siargaonon waves, which he does so serenely and sensually. He returns to his hometown, with a heart only as hard as his pectoral muscles, after a grave falling out with his band in Manila. But there are unfinished businesses at home, including an unresolved romance with Abi, whose job, at least for a good chunk of the film, seems to be spitting out beach metaphors.
Few people like beach metaphors, and Laura, one-half of a recently broken-up vlogger couple, belongs to that sample of people. Played by Gonzales, with decidedly scarce authenticity to match her tassel earrings, Laura is ever-cheery, enthusiastic, and always wearing a facade of relentless, smiley curiosity. When she rolls down her lodge, she’s beckoned by Wil—interestingly, a vlogger in real-life—who notes that the island is laid-back, convivial, and an ideal respite to nurse a broken heart. A more cynical reading of “Siargao” laments on the scorned’s penchant for easy comforts, be it from opiating in the fleeting high of an alien land or feigning bliss for one’s self or, in Laura’s case, her twenty-two-thousand-something subscribers on YouTube.
Because surely escape is a sought commodity, and thusly costly even for someone who calls Siargao, a frequent and favored point of escape by many, his “home”. It is also here that Jigs and Laura meet for the second time and the third. The first one is on a plane, a “him bumping into her in a totally coincidental and certifiably cute” kind of way. The second is on the way to the island, where sexual tensions peak and eventually valley, all in the midst of a nifty guide to, as Jigs call it, “the island life.” From this, there are two things to deduce: that one, Soriano wishes to eschew romantic film tropes to only little success; and two, that a concept as abstract as escape can have its own dedicated vlog.
And a vlog is what the whole of “Siargao” feels like—self-aware, put-on, a facade. Pessumal’s screenplay tries to convince otherwise, but there’s nary a conflict compelling enough to sway our minds. Of the not-so-compelling conflicts, there are mainly two: one is Jigs’, who gets plagued by his life in Manila, the life that supposedly built and destroyed him; and the other one is Laura’s, who reflexively declines the proposal of her fiancee. We learn this in a rare moment of candor, their third meeting, where they become friends: hunched over the bar counter, Laura strips herself of pretense, an outfit she wears skillfully as she does her Instagram-worthy jumpsuit, and drapes onto Jigs her regretful lamentations in life. It’s a genuinely moving moment, albeit fleeting and ultimately squandered in a story that does nothing to make its conflicts more tangible.
A proper, more generous term to call the film is a travelogue, replete with lush, poster card-like imagery (which is to say: drone shots!) and accompanying cliff notes about taking risks that often feel saccharine. It is the standard business in such films to make the case that it’s about the journey—meandering as it can grow—than it is about the destination. The opposite is true for “Siargao”: you leave the theater longing for the island more than you feel for the journey you share with its characters.
2017 / DRAMA / PH
Direction: Paul Soriano Screenplay: Anj Pessumal Stars: Jericho Rosales, Erich Gonzales, Jasmine Curtis
Set in the rustic but breathtaking surf island of Siargao, the film follows a burned-out musician returns to his hometown to escape his troubles in the city. He meets a sheltered vlogger who is picking herself up after a failed relationship, while he seeks closure with a former love he left behind. In a place filled with adventure, where people spend their days going with the flow of the tides and the direction of the waves, three people learn that the greatest adventure lies in learning to take the risk of commitment.