By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

Love is the name of the game at this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). This time around, the fantasies — and horror perennial Shake, Rattle, N’ Roll — which have dominated recent iterations of the film festival are taking a backseat. Instead, at the forefront are romantic comedies: My Bebe Love, Walang Forever, and All You Need is Pag-ibig (love).

Starring in romantic comedies at the 2015 Metro Manila Film Fest are (clockwise from top) Ai Ai delas Alas and Vic Sotto and Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza (My Bebe Love); Jennylyn Mercado and Jericho Rosales (Walang Forever); and Kim Chiu (All You Need is Pag-ibig).

And it seems that love isn’t found only in reel life, but in real life, too.

Competing against each other — at least on screen — are directors and sweethearts Antoinette Jadaone and Dan Villegas, with their respective features All You Need is Pag-ibig and Walang Forever. But unlike their previous movie The Breakup Playlist (directed by Mr. Villegas and written by Ms. Jadaone), where the relationship between its characters (played by Sarah Geronimo and Piolo Pascual) deteriorates midway because of their careers, the real-life partners see no “professional competition.” They support each other.

Mr. Villegas (@dan_villegas) and his girlfriend (@tonet_jadaone) have been posting about each other’s movies on their respective social media accounts. (BusinessWorld failed to secure an interview with them as of press time because both were busy shooting their respective festival movies — Ms. Jadaone was in Coron, Palawan, while Mr. Villegas was in Taiwan.)

After the success of last year’s hit movie English Only Please, which was directed by Mr. Villegas and written by Ms. Jadaone, the director ups the ante with another romantic flick: Walang Forever. It is top-billed by Jericho Rosales and 2014 MMFF best actress Jennylyn Mercado. (JM de Guzman who starred in the hit That Thing Called Tadhana [directed by Ms. Jadaone and produced by Mr. Villegas] was supposed to star with Ms. Mercado, but was later replaced.)

As of press time, the official trailer of Walang Forever has already garnered more than two million views on the film’s Facebook fan page.

Based on the trailer, the love story between Mia (Ms. Mercado), a romantic comedy writer, and Ethan (Mr. Rosales), a software developer, started in high school as the usual love-hate relationship, and develops into a long-distance love affair, with the film asking if there really is “forever” when it comes to love.

The movie also stars award-winning actress Lorna Tolentino, together with Jerald Napoles, Nico Antonio, Pepe Herrera, Kim Molina, and Cai Cortez.

Real life can, apparently, be as complicated as a rom-com plot. Ms. Jadaone’s MMFF entry has its share of twisted romantic tales.

Former lovebirds Kris Aquino and Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista were supposed to star in Ms. Jadaone’s Star Cinema film. (The original title was Mr. and Mrs. Split, later changed to Pamilyang Love, Love, Love, before finally settling with All You Need is Pag-ibig.) According to reports, Mr. Bautista had to back out from the film in order to prepare for the 2016 national elections (he’s running for his last term as mayor). Prior to that, Ms. Aquino had announced that she would not be part of the film. She changed her mind when the final casting announcement, which said Mr. Bautista was no longer involved, was made.

It’s out with the Mayor and in with hunk Derek Ramsay, who happens to be the lead in English Only Please. He won the Best Actor award at the 2014 MMFF for his work in the film.

All You Need is Pag-ibig, according to Star Cinema, “promises to bring Valentines this Christmas Day.”

The recently uploaded movie official trailer — which has 260,197 views on YouTube so far — starts with an embittered Aquino, who appears to come from a fresh breakup. It deals with tales of love, its many faces and phases: puppy love, sibling love, “pag-ibig na umaasa pero nganga” (hopeless love), budding love, and familial love.

Also in cast are Kim Chiu, Xian Lim, Jodi Sta. Maria, Ian Veneracion, Nova Villa, Ronaldo Valdez, Pokwang, James “Bimby” Yap, and Julia and Talia Concio.

From director-partners and former lovebirds, the 2015 MMFF also happens to highlight the budding on- (and perhaps, off-?) screen love team of “Aldub” (Alden Richards and Maine “Yaya Dub” Mendoza).

(According to Wikipedia, AlDub “is a fictional supercouple that appears in the kalyeserye portion of the ‘Juan for All, All for Juan’ segment of the noontime variety show Eat Bulaga!.”)

All the film fest movies, most especially My Bebe Love (thanks to Aldub’s million fans) are expected to make money. In the words of Metropolitan Manila Development Authority executive director Naomi Ilagan, “As usual, inaasahan natin na every year ay mas magaganda at magagaling ang mga lumalahok na pelikula, palaki nang palaki ang gross sales,” (As usual, we are expecting the movies to be better, and the gross sales to grow bigger).

The trailer of My Bebe Love currently has 168,483 views and counting on its official Facebook fan page. It stars two of the industry’s biggest box-office draws: Vic Sotto and Ai Ai delas Alas, along with the Aldub love team and with special participation of Eat Bulaga! cast members like Jose Manalo and Joey de Leon.

Asked what makes his film different from formulaic movies, My Bebe Love’s director Joey Reyes told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview that “Although it is a romantic comedy [which is] most favored by audiences regardless of season, My Bebe Love offers a reinvention of Vic Sotto over and above his Enteng characterization seen and loved for so many years. [Sotto has played the fantasy film character Enteng Cabisote on television and screen for decades. — Ed.] 

“Moreover, Ai-Ai makes her bid to regain her stature as the true Comedy Queen of the country. And then, of course, there is Aldub, which is more than a love team that feeds fantasies, but rather a social phenomenon that tends to explain so much of how the Filipino feel and think in the here and now all over the world,” he said.

He added that his treatment is a far cry from the fantasy Mr. Sotto is known for, or Ms. delas Alas’ usual comedies. “It looks at love and relationship from two generations,” he said.

“Christmas is for the family — and who can turn away from the charms of romance? Rom-com has ceased to be mere staple fare of holiday season movie going. It has become a national addiction,” said Mr. Reyes.

MMFF 2015 Movies

While majority of the entries for the 2015 Metro Manila Film Festival are romantic comedies, the annual film festival will also offer horror, suspense, and action flicks. The eight entries will be shown nationwide from Dec. 25 until Jan. 7. During this period, no foreign films will be screened.

The festival films are:

Beauty and the Bestie
ABS-CBN Film Production, Inc. and Viva Communications, Inc.
Director: Wenn Deramas
Starring: Vice Ganda and Coco Martin
Genre: Action-Comedy

While searching for the abducted daughter of a Prime Minister, policeman Coco Martin commissions his best friend Beauty (Vice Ganda) to temporarily pretend to be the missing woman while he completes his mission to bring the real one back.

Buy Now, Die Later
Quantum Films
Director: Randolph Longjas
Starring: Rayver Cruz, Jayson Gainza, John Lapus, Janine Gutierrez, and Lotlot de Leon
Genre: Suspense

An anthology of five suspense stories, each representing one of the five senses.

Nilalang (The Entity)
Haunted Towers Pictures, Inc.
Director: Pedring Lopez
Starring: Cesar Montano and Maria Ozawa
Genre: Action

After 14 women are stabbed to death, Japanese authorities realize the women were killed in a manner similar to a case in the Philippines. Brought to Japan to solve the crime, a Filipino policeman (Montano) seeks the help of a club owner (Ozawa).

Haunted Mansion
Regal Entertainment, Inc.
Director: Jun Lana
Starring: Marlo Mortel, Jerome Ponce, and Janella Salvador
Genre: Horror

The film is about a mission to free the restless souls that inhabit a haunted mansion.

Honor Thy Father
Reality Entertainment
Director: Erik Matti
Starring: John Lloyd Cruz and Meryll Soriano
Genre: Action-drama

A swindler couple find their lives threatened after getting involved in a get-rich-quick scheme.

Walang Forever
Quantum Films
Director: Dan Villegas
Starring: Jericho Rosales and Jennylyn Mercado
Genre: Romantic comedy

Thanks to recent events in her life, a celebrated writer of romantic-comedy films finds herself unable to believe that love can last. Things come to a head when her ex returns — a cynic unable to believe in lasting love because she broke his heart.

My Bebe Love
Octoarts Films, MZET Productions, APT Ent., Inc.
Director: Jose Javier Reyes
Starring: Vic Sotto, Ai-Ai Delas Alas, Alden Richards, and Maine “Yaya Dub” Mendoza
Genre: Romantic comedy

A nerd under his aunt’s thumb and a rebelious girl seeking her father’s attention, meet, collide, then fall in love.

All You Need is Pag-ibig
ABS-CBN Film Productions, Inc.
Director: Antoinette Jadaone
Starring: Kris Aquino, Derek Ramsay, Kim Chiu, Xian Lim, Ian Veneracion, and Jodi Sta. Maria
Genre: Romantic comedy

An ensemble film that looks at the different kinds of love.