‘Never Not Love You’ explores what it means to love in the working world

There’s this one scene in Antoinette Jadaone’s Never Not Love You in which freelance artist and even free-er spirit Gio (James Reid) is asking corporate go-getter Joanne (Nadine Lustre) a line which we’ve all heard or used, in various permutations, when flirting. “What’s your thing?” Like, art is Gio’s thing, what’s Joanne’s thing? She says “family.” He says, that isn’t a thing. Everybody’s got a thing and we need to find you one.

This fixation on the vague, nebulous “thing” is, in many ways, where the realms of romance and career overlap. A thing, by which to navigate the working world. A thing, to present to someone you desire to argue that you are also desirable. It’s what gives your life meaning and makes you unique, and both your job and your relationship are avenues where you can self-actualize and become your best self.

It’s important to acknowledge this because career figures very significantly in this film, and is what makes NNLY the kind of love story that it is. Gio is a Makati-based artist who, used to coasting on intermittent rakets and daddy paying his apartment’s rent, is faced with the choice to pursue something more stable. Joanne, meanwhile, comes to the big city with the goal of someday becoming a brand manager for a large company, and the bigger dream of providing for her family in Zambales.

 

With Gio and Joanne though, we have two people who may genuinely love each other but are otherwise on very different life trajectories, with different beliefs and priorities driving their actions. When love comes into play, these trajectories have to be reconciled, and compromises have to be made. 

 

There are many love stories that assume the predestination of two people getting together, the meant-to-be-factor of their union. With Gio and Joanne though, we have two people who may genuinely love each other but are otherwise on very different life trajectories, with different beliefs and priorities driving their actions. When love comes into play, these trajectories have to be reconciled, and compromises have to be made. (Even the title is a clue: Never Not Love You, two negatives smashed together to form a statement that promises hope.) What kind of relationship comes out of that then? One that isn’t secure in its bliss, but pursues bliss by actively maintaining a sense of security. NNYL portrays this with a story made of barely any explosive moments, but runs like a slow, strong burn.

I’ve seen a lot of reviews call NNLY “quiet” and “grounded” and “real,” and sure, it’s all those things, but why? Yes, we have a film which assumes that its audience knows that love isn’t rainbows and butterflies. But unpacking all that requires understanding that one strength of the film is Jadaone’s ability to acknowledge the larger world that Gio and Joanna’s relationship inhabits.

 

 

NNLY is a love story, but set in the highly specific context of Philippine economic precarity — very particular conditions which compel its citizens to make difficult work-related decisions. Should I stay here, or should I pursue better financial opportunities overseas? Should I put off this one dream to pursue another, or stick to my guns and play safe? What will this promotion do for us? To us?

At some point in the film, Gio and Nadine tell each other that they are each other’s “thing.” And anyone who’s ever let a relationship become what the rest of their life orbits knows what kind of conflict comes with that romantic realignment of priorities. NNLY shows us that when it comes to maintaining a relationship, love isn’t just feeling, and it isn’t even also just a choice. It’s paying the bills. It’s scheduling Skype calls. It’s taking care of other things that may or may not affect your partner. It’s texting, “I was in a meeting, honey, I’m sorry I missed your call, is everything okay?”

 

Love is logistics. And NNLY argues that masterfully, showing two characters who, despite circumstances larger than them, try nonetheless, leaving the audience to wonder whether or not that effort should be rewarded.

 

Love is logistics. And NNLY argues that masterfully, showing two characters who, despite circumstances larger than them, try nonetheless, leaving the audience to wonder whether or not that effort should be rewarded.

There are a few things that keep this film from being perfect. Gio’s moody artist character is a bit of a caricature, and some of the film’s few louder moments diminish the film’s grasp of emotional nuance. These flaws however barely hurt the art that Jadaone has crafted. The writing is strong, Nadine’s acting is especially powerful, and more credit should be given to Len Calvo’s masterful scoring. Like a love tested by time and circumstance, NNYL chugs on strong and sure, with a heart big enough to accommodate more emotions than just happiness.

Never Not Love You is now showing in theaters.

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