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tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Never Not Love You’ Smartly Examines Romance in Pragmatic Terms

There’s a lot to like in the new James Reid-Nadine Lustre film

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Never Not Love You tells the story of a romance between two very different young people. Joanne (Nadine Lustre) is a probinsyana trying to make good in the big city, with modest dreams of becoming a brand manager in two years and providing for her family back in Zambales. Gio (James Reid) is a graphic designer and artist living off the support of his father, only occasionally doing work when it suits him. The story kicks off with their very first meeting at a tattoo shop, and follows them through the ups and downs of their relationship.

It’s mostly ups, really. At least for the first half. Early on, the movie is able to convey just how special this relationship is, in spite of its newness, in spite of its youngness. There isn’t some elaborate meet-cute that brings these two together, no amazing set of circumstances that forces them to spend time with each other. The two meet, and there’s immediately something there. They date. They open up to each other. They fall in love. What the film does better than most local romantic films is capture that first heady rush of romance, those lovely first few months when just being around someone makes your heart beat faster.

Of course, the movie is about really testing that love, pushing this young couple into a less-than-ideal situation that causes fights and hurt feelings. The story takes them to London, where an amazing job opportunity gives Gio a chance to grow. The career-driven Joanne, on the other hand, finds herself stalling. It’s a conflict we’ve certainly seen before in local movies, but Never Not Love You finds new, painful angles, its investment in its characters paying off in emotional dividends as they struggle with the idea of finding their own individual happiness.

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There’s a lot to like in all that. The film smartly examines modern romance in oddly pragmatic terms, almost every decision made with the weight of practical, personal considerations in mind. Almost. The movie loses something in its last narrative stretch as it reaches for a resolution it doesn’t quite earn. The film actually comes close to pulling it off, with a heavy silence providing space for something more substantial than your standard contrived happy ending. But it still feels weirdly rushed, with the characters not allowed the same thoughtfulness provided in the earlier conflicts.

But overall, the movie still works pretty well. There is just something to the film’s smallness, its willingness to just linger in small, meaningful moments. And it feels like the film’s two stars have really grown in these roles. James Reid really leans into the entitlement of his character, playing it as an uncompromising anger bubbling underneath his placid exterior. But it’s Nadine Lustre who really shines in this movie, the character’s history on display in practically every scene that she’s in, her every choice put into the context of the accumulation of Joanne’s experiences. She just makes everything feel meaningful. And together, the two display a familiarity and chemistry that might just be unmatched.

Never Not Love You is really lovely all in all. It’s still tough to buy into the film’s last narrative stretch, the movie tumbling into a conclusion that feels a little easier than it really ought to be. So much of this film is about making tough choices, and it kind of feels like this production just kind of ran out of ideas for its last little bit. Having said that, there are still more ups than downs, many more highs than lows. It’s one of those romances that seems to recognize just how profound it is that people find each other, that they fall in love, and that they have to make compromises to make things work. In the smallest of moments, this film often finds grace.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.