By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Directed by Dan Villegas
FOR THE multitudes of Filipinos who have never had the chance to go to a PETA play, the film adaptation of Vincent de Jesus’s 2016 Changing Partners for Cinema One Originals 2017 is a welcome development. As directed by Dan Villegas and seamlessly edited by Marya Ignacio, there is nothing stagey or theatrical about the movie version.
At the Q&A for the Nov. 18 screening, several in the audience even confessed that they had watched both the PETA stage play and the Cinema One screen versions more than once. The existence of a cult-like following, the festival full houses, and its winning of the “Audience Choice” award are heartening portents for the film’s future chances at wider release. A filmed play is still a way of turning Filipinos on to legitimate theater, and surely, that is a good thing.
Although it is a love story, richly studded with hugot (emotionality), and the laughs do keep coming, the term “rom-com” would not do justice to Changing Partners. It’s actually four love stories skillfully, sensitively, and wittily intertwined like a four-strand braid, as one flowing whole. Each of the anchoring ends of the braids is an Alex, one of the two older, middle-aged lovers: female Alex (Agot Isidro) and male Alex (Jojit Lorenzo). Their two much younger lovers, just pushing 30, are both named Chris: female Chris (Anna Luna) and male Chris (Sandino Martin). The Chrises thread towards the older Alexes in hetero and homosexual relationships.
The whole ensemble reprises the roles which they also played onstage during the PETA run. They must also sing, and there is nothing tone deaf in their delivery. This cast is a true pleasure to watch and listen to as they hit all the right notes. New songs have been added for the film. The advertising creative Lilit Reyes worked on the screenplay with Vincent de Jesus. Between the laughter and tears, there is never a dull moment.
Age is not just a number but a painfully real gap. Outside of food and sex, it determines what they may have in common. The Chrises enjoy digital pleasures but are unsuccessful players in the gig economy. The Alexes came of age in low-tech pre-millennial times but are gainfully employed and successful professionals.
The discrepancy in socioeconomic power is especially glaring since the Chrises are financially dependent on their older partners. In both cases, the older partner initiated the relationships. The relationship dynamics are very Pinoy: the infantilizing of the dependent young lover, who, as the stay-at-home partner is, however, expected to be mothering and nurturing by taking on most of the domestic duties or drudgery, since s/he has no economic resources. Another distinctly Pinoy nuance is the dark shadow cast by the disapproval of the Chrises mothers over their May-December arrangements. It is complicated. It can get ugly. The relationships may not work, but the film really does.