Whatever new ground the Philippine cinema is breaking in dramas and thrillers, the romances and rom-coms rolling out of there and onto Netflix aren’t making any impression.
Even taking into account cultural differences as we travel Around the World with Netflix, “Here and There (Dito at Doon)” is a sleep-inducing nothing of a romance, every bit as warm and/or titillating as that photo of its star, above, sitting there swapping stories, insults and (tepid) flirtations via computer during COVID lockdown.
This reuniting of co-stars from “The Woman and the Gun” doesn’t do much for either Janine Gutierrez or JC Santos, or for anybody hoping for something — anything — to motivate you to stick with it.
Len (Gutierrez) is at home, alone and bored with her nurse-mom (Shyr Valdez) at work and overwhelmed by the spreading pandemic. Len socializes via Facenook (tee hee), where she grumps that this lockdown isn’t a big deal with her friends, all of whom are of the “just drink at home” (in Filipino with English subtitles) instead of going out mind.
Save for this one commenter who gets under her skin. “Caloy” takes her and her pals’ “just stay at home, what’s so hard about that, mother-f—–r?” slaps personally.
They exchange a few shots, and that’s that. Until Len convenes her girlfriend/boyfriend pals Jo (Yesh Burce) and Mark (Victor Anastasio) for a group guzzle and gab — online.
Wouldn’t you know it? Mark invites his buddy “Cabs” into the mix. And before too long, as Len vents about her annoying exchanges earlier that day, Cabs figures out, and then Len is clued in, that he was the guy who got on her nerves.
Hanging up only means, their “meet cute” (note remotely) will require an apology or two to really come off.
It does, and she figures out he’s from Cebu, runs a street vending coffee cart for his livelihood, and the shutdown is basically putting him out of business.
They chat and chat and call and what not, and whatever will be, will be.
The film’s most modestly clever conceit is the way Len imagines these conversations playing out. The group is gathered in her living room, or later Caloy is talking to her in a more intimate way at the foot of her bed.
That sounds even less racy than it is. This film’s chastity rivals the coy extremes of Bollywood in terms of “romance.” At least in Bollywood they make eyes at each other and sing and dance with one another as they court and flirt.
“Here and There” can’t even manage that.
Comedies and dramas made under COVID conditions either strain to not seem claustrophobic, mimicking the solitude and isolation we all feel, or lean into it. This one does both, to zero effect.
It’s a polished production, as handsomely mounted as any Hollywood, Bollywood or British soundstage romance. It’s just not romantic. And unlike the dramas and thrillers exported from the islands, it ventures little in the way of commentary on the state of the nation under the autocratic goon Duterte.
Anybody hoping to see a Filipino version of Tom and Meg or Miss Bennett and Mister Darcy in this new “couple” will be sorely disappointed. It’s dull and pretty much charmless.
Rating: TV-14, beer drinking, profanity
Cast: Janine Gutierrez, JC Santos, Yesh Burce and Victor Anatasio
Credits: Directed by Jaime Habac Jr., scripted by Kristin Parreño Barrameda, Alex Gonzales A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:38