Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Slamdance ’13: What Isn’t There

Alt-pop music used to be great at expressing young amour and heartsick yearning.  Evidently, it still does in the Philippines.  Some remarkably catchy tunes perfectly accompany a damaged teen’s first significant love in Marie Jamora’s What Isn’t There (trailer here), which screens again today as part of the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.

Gibson Bonifacio stopped speaking.  He could if he wanted to, but he doesn’t.  He blames himself for his twin brother’s death and assumes everyone else does too.  His mother’s overbearing behavior does not exactly help bring him out of his shell either.  Unfortunately, his beloved little sister Promise bears the brunt of her control freak parenting.  Bonifacio’s only solace comes from his brother’s ghost conjured from his imagination and his vintage music, until he happens to meet Enid del Mundo.

Much to his surprise, del Mundo does not seem to mind his silent ways.  She is also a vinyl collector, whose tastes include British New Wave and traditional Harana ballads.  She is cute too.  Viewers can hardly blame Bonifacio for getting hung up on her, even though we know by now young love almost never runs smoothly.

You can dog WIT for being sentimental, but it takes its characters and situations refreshingly seriously.  Jamora and co-writer Ramon De Veyra clearly think getting dumped is a pretty rotten thing to happen to a sensitive teenager, which indeed it is.  She also has an ear for hummable and thematically appropriate pop songs and Haranas.

Dominic Roco’s Bonifacio is supposed to be introverted, but there are times he seems to literally shrink on camera.  In contrast, Annicka Dolonius lights up the screen as del Mundo.  While the large supporting ensemble all looks right, Boboy Garovillo and Sabrina Man both add a memorable sense of earnest down-to-earth-ness as Bonifacio’s father and younger sister, respectively.

WIT is a lot like a Filipino John Hughes movie, but with less comedy.  Those who like bittersweet teen dramas will really dig this one.  Recommended accordingly, What Isn’t There screens again this afternoon (1/22) at Treasure Mountain Inn, as part of this year’s Slamdance.