Directed by Jade Castro
Starring Gabbi Garcia, Khalil Ramos, Tuesday Vargas
I generally have reservations calling a filmmaker a voice for his generation because that could imply a vision that is restricted to a specific subset of people. (Ari Aster is one such filmmaker who comes to mind; with Midsommar, Aster defined himself as a hipster millennial whose sensibilities are not for everyone.) But, with extreme caution, I will confer the “voice of a generation” title on director Jade Castro who, with his latest film LSS(currently showing in this year’s edition of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino and winner of the festival’s Special Jury Prize) shows that not only does he have a finger on the pulse of his generation, but also an eye on showing older codgers like me a thing or two.
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For a romance, LSS takes an intriguing direction. Zack (Khalil Ramos) is a website designer living with his bohemian single mom (Tuesday Vargas, sporting a dyed bob that makes her look like an anime cosplayer who’s stayed in character too long). Sarah (Gabbi Garcia) is a worker in the gig economy trying to hoist her younger brother past the finish line of college graduation. They are both pining for something: Zack for a longtime friend who thinks nothing of being involved with male and female partners; Sarah for an actual shot at performing and getting her songs heard. They meet one evening on their way home riding a point-to-point bus; Sarah notices Zack because he is obliviously singing along with a voice too loud to a song they both like (by the newly ascendant group Ben&Ben, also co-producers of the movie). When Zack sidles next to Sarah, the two bond over their taste in music.
And then for the majority of its running time, the film keeps them apart. LSS observes Zack and Sarah as they go about their lives, experiencing cycles of heartbreak and hope—but more importantly, not having their one chance encounter define their every move and decision because, again, they’re too busy living their lives. Instead, Castro keeps Zack and Sarah at arm’s length from each other, sometimes being in the same place at the same time, either missing each other or being too busy with other matters to actually interact.
In a more conventional romantic comedy, the leads’ romance would be a catalyst for personal enlightenment or inform their family issues (and thanks to the uproarious Tuesday Vargas, Zack has some so-funny-it-hurts matters in his family). But LSS makes an astute observation: Sometimes a romance is just a romance—and in this case, even less than that—just one more random thing in your life that’s just sitting there.
The fact that Castro is a young filmmaker with experience working in the studio system is both a plus and a minus. It’s a plus because he’s paid his dues, and it shows in the control he has of his tone. His approach is young, but it’s also laser-focused. The film looks polished and well-produced, and there is none of that handheld camera jerkiness that’s supposed to lend a documentary feel to your visuals but now only ladles on a patina of cliché.
He is also a filmmaker who is wise enough to know that the impulse to organize our random lives into a semblance of meaning is a universal one. In this case, the characters find meaning in the music they listen to. There’s a bit of La La Landin how Zack and Sarah break into song, but it’s never splashily intrusive. Mostly, it’s diegetic—involving actors Ramos and Garcia singing along in a scene from an established source—and that encourages the millennial and Gen Z audience to sing along too. And for older people like me who don’t know most of the songs? LSS plugs you into the feeling of the music, into a place beyond words that mere dialogue can’t reach.
And yet Castro’s experience can also be a hindrance. LSS has enough of a sense of humor to bring Zack and Sarah together at a moment when the two are at their lowest, but once they get together, the narrative engine starts to sputter. Even Castro recognizes this, inventing an excuse to split them up again that’s never really an obstacle to them getting back together. And there’s a part of me that wonders what it would be like, in a parallel universe somewhere, if LSS had given its charming leads less of a happy ending. I bet in that universe, LSS would have pissed me off…but it would have also broken my heart and stayed with me longer.