Love hurts, which is why it’s always fun to laugh at it.
If the key to any good rom-com is that one obstacle keeping lovers apart ‘til the end, then Philippine cinema is the king of the drawn-out romance. Be it class, geography, an ex, another woman/man, parents, a best friend, work, tadhana—our local rom-coms can keep us on our toes until we just want to chuck popcorn at the screen. Granted, not all of it is good, and most are just terrible, but more often than not, you’ll find viewers willing to indefinitely suspend disbelief for that single moment when John Lloyd professes his love to whoever leading lady he happens to be paired with.
Very few local rom-coms have graduated from scene-by-scene execution to actual storytelling, but that hasn’t stopped the genre from selling for decades. And if it’s not the consistent, airtight plotlines, then it’s got to be the characters, right? The ladies, of course.
No self-respecting Pinoy rom-com would be complete without her. In fact, The Bakya is the go-to female archetype of every local blockbuster. Beautiful, slim, charming, and smart, The Bakya is perfect in every way—until she actually interacts with normal human beings. After all, nobody likes a perfectly perfect heroine. She will trip over herself while trying to walk in high-heels, usually spilling the contents of whatever she’s holding on top of the male lead. She will pick fights with random strangers who remind her of an ex, profess love to the generic male lead from crowded thoroughfares, dance shamelessly in public, and adopt exaggerated English accents/sexy poses/contrived personas in attempts at seduction. She will weep uncontrollably in the rain in front of a fishball stand, blurt the first thing that comes to her mind to anyone who’ll care to listen, and hurry around town leaving a trail of mass destruction in her wake, all in the name of love. The Bakya is confined to no specific social class, which is why movie execs love her, the public can’t get enough of her, and the typically rich, handsome, snobbish leading man will irrevocably fall in love with her.
The Career Woman
You know that striking yet solitary woman sitting at her desk? Palm on forehead, glasses set askew, a solitary strand of hair falling past her face to indicate the amount of stress she’s under? Co-workers hurry noisily past, toss out invitations to have lunch, shrug and laugh themselves out of the cut-scene. When all the hoi polio has cleared the room, there’s The Career Woman, and across from her, the boy-next-door co-worker/admirer/random client. He flashes a grin, and The Career Woman scowls, bow her head back down, tucks the lone strand of hair behind her ear. Then smiles at her fingers. And that, viewers, is veritable proof that The Career Woman has estrogen. She’s just too busy (for now) to give in to less financially rewarding pursuits.
The Best Friend
Because there are things even our heroine shouldn’t be allowed to talk about sans any trigger—like her sex life or lack thereof, or the fact that it no longer matters to her because she’s turning thirty, yadayada blahblah. The Best Friend is not a foil character or an antithesis, but simply a character who’s not the leading lady. She covers the bases the leading lady shouldn’t have to, providing the scandalous gossip, the reproachful tone, the shoulder to cry on, the withering quips. But The Best Friend has really nothing going in her own life, no existence beyond the coffee dates and sleepovers. She might have a business, a kid or two, but snippets of her life make up exactly 1.5% of the movie. So while The Best Friend is indispensable to the life of our heroine, you know all she’ll do is appear to pass judgment, then disappear in the next frame. Repeat.
The “Say What?” Mom
In times of dire need, when all seems lost, a beacon of light always comes in the form of the leading lady’s mother. “Mother knows best” in real life, so it isn’t a stretch for a mother who’s practically been absent throughout the movie to blurt out the most profoundly convoluted advice in five sentences or less, and end her monologue with the line “kaya ko nga ipinakasalan tatay mo, eh.” Queue flourishing music as our heroine cries into her mother’s bosom. A derivation of The “Say What?” Mom is the bato-bato-sa-langit-nuggets-of-wisdom-mother, where the scriptwriters subtly insert some world-weary remark that makes so much sense, they turn it into a metaphor about, say, Quiapo.
The One Who Wants a Kabarkada’s Flame (aka The Other Woman)
As one type of leading lady, The One Who Wants a Kabarkada’s Flame is a curious thing. I mean, come on, where does your loyalty lie? And the writers expect us to sympathize because the potential happy ending trumps the years of friendship? When these things happen in real life, it’s a barkada breaker. But given that these forbidden longings been portrayed time and time again in our rom-coms and dramas, it deserves a closer look. Thus the real culprit arises: the leading man. He who enjoys the attention of two women, mindless of the drama but ultimately confident with his choice as if it was all that mattered. This is, sad to say, often overlooked in rom-coms—the role of the man in making it all about the candle-lit dinners and dimpled half-smiles.
This list is by no means exclusive, but you get the idea. Our local rom-coms will always have its archetypes and fall-back comedic formulas, but the best ones will have other elements; elements of sadness, for one, sitting side-by-side with all the slapstick and repartee. Cult favorite One More Chance and the more recent That Thing Called Tadhana are both terrific exercises in cinematic storytelling; profoundly sad in its execution, dealing with loss, unwanted change, and how people let each other down. In the end, it’s all about the balance of conflicting emotions, left squarely on the shoulders of our beloved rom-com heroines.