There’s a possibility that you’ll pass up on the Metro Manila Film Festival entry Vince and Kath and James, the popular online series turned big screen rom-com by director Theodore Boborol, just because it’ll be the nth Pinoy romantic comedy you’ll see in your life as a Filipino cineaste. Or maybe just this year.
Perhaps so. But dismissing the film also means missing out on its depiction of coming of age in the era of social media, its honest-to-goodness take on young love with aching sweetness, and more importantly, its lead actress Julia Barretto’s steaming slow-mo scene pimping a car’s hood. Seriously.
Vince and Kath and James happens in the world of engineering majors Vince (Joshua Garcia) and Kath (Julia Barretto) who both have to deal with family dysfunction and carrying that baggage along with them to survive the pressures of college drama. And then there’s world-shattering, life-changing love that begins with Vince’s admiration for the beauty-brains-and-brawns Kath, a pretty face with clandestine mad skills of a mechanic.
Simple and charming Vince struggles to get Kath to notice him and so takes out his unrequited feels on his anonymous Da Vinci Quotes Twitter account. He finally gets an opening when the basketball jock, James (Ronnie Alonte), also Vince’s cousin and best friend, confesses that he likes Kath too and seeks Vince’s help to ask her out. Selfless to a fault and lacking confidence in himself, Vince concedes. He starts texting Kath, masquerading as “Var,” short for “varsity,” and eventually becomes successful in bridging the two together. Complication kicks in when Vince’s real feelings show, (unfortunately) winning Kath’s affections.
While you’ve plausibly seen all these before: an incredibly convoluted plot imbued with all-too familiar characters, Vince and Kath and James pulls off rom-com tropes with flair. First, it gives its lead characters a means to come into their own—Vince learns to have faith in himself, Kath gains assurance that it’s fine to be the girl she really is, and James finally owns up to his mistakes. The film is, more than anything, a personal journey that pushes its character to be better people. Rom-coms, more than we realize, are often coming-of-age stories, regardless, oddly, of its main characters’ age.
Second, as a love triangle-themed plot, Vince and Kath and James, banks on its realistic ambition to tell a story, no cheap gimmicks or agenda. It is endearing in that sense, even more charming when it finds itself subtly admonishing the misogynistic world for limiting the capable Kath to paper work when she does her college internship in a male-dominated manufacturing plant. Also worth noting: the film makes clever references to a Pinoy rom-com favorite, Got 2 Believe (2002), and Julia gets to give her take on her real-life Auntie Claudine Barretto’s famous lines in the beloved movie.
Ironically, with the plethora of love stories in film, great rom-coms are becoming extinct. It’s rare to come across rom-coms these days that aren’t clichéd or contrived. But Vince and Kath and James, at least, isn’t an insult to love.
It’s cute without being annoying. It doesn’t dumb down its audience with sick, destructive fairy tale-ish notions about falling in love. The chemistry among its young talents isn’t fake; instead their energy is raw, refreshing, and palpable.
Ultimately, the film deserves its place in the sun for being sincere. Everyone has experienced falling in love or has had some kind of heartbreak—and Vince and Kath and James reminds one that love doesn’t see more action than that. It is, anyway, for all those painstaking reasons worthwhile going through.