The problem with director Dan Villegas’ latest tragic romance, Exes Baggage, is that we’ve seen all of this before. The enticing meet-cutes. The inevitable relationship building. The so-sad-it-hurts-like-fuck breakup. It’s been done so many times that it’s starting to feel like a shtick again—a formula studios have been riding on since the inimitable That Thing Called Tadhana (a superior film) reminded us that #wanderlust and #feels worked oh so well together. But sadly, it’s all getting old. And it’s no wonder the movie was being marketed like crazy, leveraging its leads’ storied past through viral internet videos and features as a tool to bait moviegoers. It’s because it feels thin.
Don’t get us wrong. There’s good in it, too. It pulls off some fun laughs and the kilig-inducing moments are there. The leads are amazing as well, doing their best with the script they’ve been given, their rapport never lacking when the scene demands it.
But for a film called Exes Baggage, this is all pretty lightweight.
The story is told through jumping timelines. Former lovers turned scorned exes Nix and P (Carlo Aquino and Angelica Panganiban, collectively known as CarGel to their adoring fans) bump into each other at a common friend’s party two years after they’ve broken up, an unexpected meeting that plunges them back in time to revisit their relationship. It’s a clever device—a tool cinephiles recognize from heart-wrenching Hollywood romances like The Notebook and Blue Valentine—that’s not new, but when used wisely can yield narrative successes.
As the people from the outside looking in, the audience plays witness to how Nix and P first met at a bar on an electric night, an instant chemistry brewing between them. They’ve both been hurt it in the past (well, who hasn’t?)—him, by a longtime GF named Dweine (an underused Coleen Garcia), a woman he wanted to marry; her by seven men, particularly a married ex who did a lot of damage in the wake of their togetherness. They fall hard for each other, fast. And before you know it, they’ve shacked up and are going through the motions of a romance.
They have their honeymoon stage, dancing to tunes only they can hear in an empty condo, bathing in the glow of post-sex giddiness. They have fights, and they’re the common ones, too. Nix, when confronted by the parts of P he doesn’t necessarily accept, finds that he obviously isn’t over Dweine. P, on the other hand, shows alcoholic tendencies, drinking herself silly whenever she gets the chance, alienting Nix in the process. These issues spark the idea that they’re both simply rebounds for each other, a legitimate concern that rocks the intimacy.
Angelica plays P with a flirtatious sensitivity that the actress has mastered so well—so much so that she almost eats Carlo alive on screen. Her naturalness elevates the material, keeping the comedy on its toes when the plot starts to reveal its weaknesses. Carlo’s more nuanced approach, however, is also commendable. He doesn’t do too much when it isn’t needed, and maybe that’s the point when you’re playing a disappointing boyfriend. They play off of each other sweetly in the courtship scenes, the lure of touch and skin and sweat making the movie a comedy of errors.
In one particular sequence, P tries to seduce Nix, but because he’s too busy making sure she’s comfortable in his grungy home, misses all her physical cues. It’s cute and commendable and enjoyable to consume, especially since the cinematography is lush and interesting, backlit flares illuminating the stars amid well-spaced shadows. The movie is technically sound, a detail underscored by a pulsating yet melancholic soundtrack of local acts led by Ben & Ben.
The problems with the script, however, reveal themselves gradually. The pace in which all these conflicts are deployed (and, of course, resolved) is heavy-handed. The characters, who at first are very much likeable, start to feel underwritten. They become stereotypes: the sakal-na-sakal-fun-fun-lang girl and the overbearing jowa afflicted by the “eh ganito ako” syndrome that Pinoys are head over heels for. In other words, studio fodder. It’s hard to take their relationship woes seriously when they seem like matters that could easily be fixed in the first place. It’s hard not to scream “Ang babaw niyo!” at the movie screen while all this is going on.
Nix and P eventually become so frustrating to watch because, unlike what the title suggests, they actually aren't products of their exes. They’re simply projecting. How they deal with their present relationship is their responsibility to bear and no one else’s, and this is a missed opportunity that is barely explored. And in the end, when the on-the-nose ending arrives, the script is okay with glorifying toxic relationships. For a movie about taking chances, taking risks because that’s what real relationships are all about, this one is happy only navigating familiar territory.
When you’re dumped or dump someone, you’re supposed to spend the two years after recovering, not trying to win back your hot ex, who you once treated like crap, during a chance encounter. When the credits come rolling, one can’t help but perceive Exes Baggage as a huge metaphor for being stuck in the past, both for the filmmakers and Pinoy moviegoers who are unhealthily obsessed with nostalgia. It promotes the idea that you should text your shitty ex. In this way, it works. It’s a reminder that we all deserve better. Move on na tayo, guys!