The thing with That Thing Called Tadhana (written and directed by Antoinette Jadaone) is that it’s everything you don’t expect in the Pinoy rom-com, and yet it delivers on everything the rom-com needs to be such.
It’s nakakakilig, yes. It’s funny, yes. But this one is also inter-textual and very conscious of itself as a love story. It refuses the trappings of the conventional mainstream rom-com, and is without the usual montages of love developing and without the long-drawn discussions about love, without the lingering looks and conversation hinged on the unsaid.
But also it is not, as some reviews have said, the closest we can get to Before Sunrise.
That’s a tangent. That Thing Called Tadhana does not even try to go on. To call it that also fails to acknowledge how simple, how tightly told, and how enjoyable this love story’s unfolding is. A rare thing it deserves credit for.
Mace (Angelica Panganiban) and Anthony (JM de Guzman) happen upon each other at the airport in Rome, where the crying girl was letting go of her belongings so she wouldn’t have to pay for overweight baggage. Boy swoops in to save the day, offering that they check-in together so that he might take on some of her excess baggage.
But of course this foretold the rest of this narrative, where the girl’s tears were not merely about the clothes she needed to let go of, and the boy’s kindness would bring him to carry more than her literal excess baggage.
Because Mace had gone to romantic Rome only to get her heart broken, and being the Pinay that she is, she could only exorcise those demons through some good ol’ local rom-coms, i.e., One More Chance. She was reciting the lines of the film out loud as she watched it on the plane, crying through it all, to the embarrassment of Anthony who sat beside her.
She didn’t care that this stranger didn’t know her; in fact, Mace proves that strangers are the best companions in the midst of a broken heart. Anthony carries all her baggage, and willingly so, later on revealing that he had baggage of his own, but that he was handling it infinitely better.
At some point he also reveals why he didn’t mind carrying all this baggage that Mace was handing him: kase chicks naman si Mace.
Oo nga naman.
Running on honesty
That Mace and Anthony travel in the film, arriving in Manila and then deciding to go to Baguio, and then up to Sagada, and back to Manila, is the most romantic—and romanticized—part of the story’s unfolding. Because of course one can’t help but wonder why money was of no object.
But you forgive this silence, because also there is no sense that Mace and Anthony are living excessively, or unbelievably. There are no long-drawn out scenes in fancy hotels or with extravagant food. In fact, what the narrative is able to maintain is a very clear sense of social class, where Mace’s language, her ability at boisterous laughter, her lack of pretentions and kaartehan create a Pinay that is independent and headstrong, but also one who wears her heart on her sleeve. She is street smart, but also knows to drink her sorrows away, in a hole in the wall, or sitting on a sidewalk.
The conversations between girl and boy hinge on Mace and the questions she poses to Anthony, who for the most part is but the person who is counterpoint to the brokenhearted girl beside him. He is cool as a cucumber, unperturbed by whatever embarrassment the brokenhearted girl might cause him. He rolls with the punches, and is at the service of this girl whose heart he now holds in his hands, its healing part of the baggage he willingly carries.
He tells her about Sagada, and how he had screamed his pain from the top of the mountains, and left it there. He tells her this after countless conversations between them, about love and letting go, about relationships ending, and how some loves are worth fighting for. It is after they had agreed that every time Mace mentions her ex, she would have to pay Anthony a hundred bucks; it is after Anthony gives her back all her cash, and lets her spill her heart out yet again.
If there is something That Thing Called Tadhana delivers on, it’s the lightness, the ease that we equate with finding love. Because much of it has to do with conversation, the kind that’s easy and comfortable, one that’s filled with laughter, but also with honesty. It’s the kilig that it does so well, delivering it via words that were as real and believable as every cuss word that would come out of Mace’s mouth.
With little else but Mace and Anthony in the film, director Jadaone allowed both Panganiban and Rodriguez to sink into their characters, because there is no barkada, no thick make-up, no designer outfits to hide behind. And it is clear that both actors actually thrived.
This might be the most I’ve liked Panganiban in a role, and I’ve seen her in most her mainstream films. Shorn of make-up and without a stereotype to fall back on, she creates Mace into the independent every Pinay adult, who falls in love, gets her heart broken, and wants nothing but to get back on her feet—and takes matters into her own hands.
Between Baguio and Sagada, Mace and Anthony lose their luggage. Anthony is freaking out; Mace tells him it’s OK. When Anthony reminds her that she had said her whole life was in her bags, Mace replies that all that she needs is here with her.
Which is to say, all she needs herself and the clothes on her back. The boy beside her seemed optional, but quite welcome.
How much more powerful could the woman in the Pinoy rom-com be.