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JM DE GUZMAN and Rhian Ramos in a scene from Kung Paano Siya Nawala.

By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

Movie Review
Kung Paano Siya Nawala
Directed by Joel Ruiz

FROM THE trailer and the stars, one expects just another romcom. The screenwriter-director Joel Ruiz admirably tries to go deeper. He even manages to insert his advocacy for fostering abandoned or abused pets through PAWS (Philippine Animal Welfare Society). The film’s most endearing characters are Whisky and Hammer, both rescue puppers. Kudos to JM de Guzman and Rhian Ramos for subtly yet sweetly serving as poster folks for such a worthy cause. Their characters are enhanced by the added dimension of their being animal lovers. In the film’s ambiguous ending, it is only the love between human and animal which is constant and unconditional. The protagonists also represent two industries dominated by millennials: food service and BPOs.

Lio (JM de Guzman), the call center agent, has a neurological disorder: prosopagnosia or face blindness. Fortunately, his job doesn’t require him to look at his clients, so he gets by. In the workplace, he relies on other visual physical cues like facial hair or body shape. Because this is a romcom, there is a metrosexual officemate, but with few speaking lines, unlike in the typical romcom where he would be the female protagonist’s confidant. Here Lio is close to his only sister Lexy (Barbara Ruaro) who happens to be discreetly gay.

Lio’s co-workers don’t know he’s disabled. They think he’s just socially awkward, sometimes unreliable. Such shortcomings don’t stop him from bedding a series of women, whom he studiously records on his cellphone. After Shana and he break up, he frantically scrolls through the photos of his multiple partners, but none of these intimate strangers look like Rhian Ramos. Was she all in his head? The film might have been more interesting if it had more of that kind of Matrix alternative reality thing going on. Too often, it descends into maudlin family drama.

The repetitive flashbacks of how Lio’s father walked out on their family when he was 10 are forced. After a couple of these, a scene pops up of Lio chasing after his dad, then getting hit by a car. The addition of physical trauma to his psychological woundedness seems like an afterthought. Before Shana enters his life, Lio cartoonishly runs into a ladder, carried by two men on the street, and gets another head wound. Later, he falls in her bathroom, sprains his arm, and has to wear a sling. The injury doesn’t advance the plot except to show how his mother (Agot Isidro) is so caught up in her own drama, she is hardly concerned about her son’s arm being in a sling.

Such a series of unfortunate events are not necessary to elicit sympathy for Mr. De Guzman’s character. His performance is nuanced and restrained. He is touchingly baffled yet exhilarated when freshly fallen in love with Shana — he sees her face on every woman at a club. Similarly, in a fit of jealousy, he sees her former lover’s face on every man in the photos of her customers which she has taped to the living room wall. His send up of Shana’s hip sophisticated friends is spot on. Unfortunately, the repeated inside joke about their “beauty parlor,” alluding to Shana’s maintaining the top knot hairstyle by which he recognizes her, falls flat. The only two people whose faces are indelibly imprinted in Lio’s unique brain are those of his neurotically needy mother and his lezzy little sister. Ricky Davao has a cute cameo playing himself, as a short-term suitor to Lio’s passive-aggressive, possibly depressed, mother. She never got over her husband’s abandonment.

But the film has its moments, particularly when Shana first appears. Ms. Ramos has the quirky untamed quality of Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s or the Melanie Griffith character in Jonathan Demme’s cult classic Wild Thing. In the latter, the Lulu character temporarily sets aside her black vinyl hot pants and dominatrix bustier for a virginal white party dress, as she role-plays the girl-next-door during her high school reunion. Here Shana puts away her drab barista apron to get all skintight and slinky at a decadent penthouse party hosted by the chic yet skeezy Mommy Trish. She owns the upscale but unfurnished house which Shana lives in for free. The barista job is just a cover for Shana’s true calling: high society drug dealing. She has a dead sister and an estranged, judgmental family as well, but the weight of her emotional baggage is barely felt. Channeling Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, she also drinks too much. But being the good businesswoman, she doesn’t touch her merchandise so she’s never shown tooting, toking, or even humping, keeping the film PG.

MTRCB Rating: PG