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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

entry arrow8:35 PM | Love Always Prevails, For Birds and Fate-Escaping Human Beings Alike

Is it still a spoiler if one reveals the ending of a film to be a cliche you've seen from too many movies? You know the kind. Love prevails. The kiss breaks the spell. Disney has made mountains of moolah from this simple formula we've seen in almost all fairy tales. But watching the same thing unfold in George Nolfi's The Adjustment Bureau [2011] finally felt like a cheat. Did we deserve the ending we got, or was it a kind of shafting, a turn towards unforgivable Deux ex machina after the story had us already cartwheeling through what felt like an original take of a love story? See, we've been through so much already; we've invested so much in the likability of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt's pairing. He is a maverick politician with a bright political future. She is a beautiful dancer. They both live in New York. One night, after an event from the past nipped his chances for a successful Senatorial run, he is ready to call in the towel of politics. Moments before giving his concession speech, he retires to what seems to be an empty bathroom of the hotel his campaign his headquartered in -- and practices his loser's speech. And then she appears from one of the stalls, muttering apologies, batting eyelashes -- and they're in love, just like that. There's something believable about this Meet Cute moment, and that is vital to our interest in the story. See, Damon's would-be Senator comes out of that bathroom energized, and he gives the concession speech that makes his political career, turning a losing run into a future of great promise. But see, the Fates -- patrolled and controlled by a group of men in trench coats and fedoras called, well, "the adjustment bureau" -- only meant them to meet just once for that purpose, and to never meet again, or else they compromise both their potentials. But there's a kink in the system; they do meet -- and both must outrun their fates (quite literally, through magic doors, all over Manhattan) if they are to be united in true love. And we went: Awww.

Hell, the film made us sit at the edges of our seats in the theater asking this question without a trace of irony: "What would you choose, love or fate?" Carlo beside me said "Love." Anna and I said "Fate." It was a haunting question we've asked the Universe forever. We were that involved. And then the ending comes. Happy, yes. But a let-down of utter unoriginality.

Still the film has its heart in the right place. That it tries to do some genre-bending with this film is something to be lauded. It's not every day you get a dramatic love story infused with New York tourism, modern dance, the marketing in a political campaign, the philosophical handwringing over existentialism and questions of fate, and the whole kaboodle of religious readings. (Is The Chairman God?) I can picture Nolfi as the screenwriter pitching this to Hollywood this way: "It's The Bourne Identity meets Dark City meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!" And we do get elements from those: the endless running through city streets of Jason Bourne (and look! it's Matt Damon himself!), the ethereal manipulations of consciousness of the Strangers, and the mind-bending race to escape and preserve love of Joel and Clementine.

But having said all of that, I reckon the film is not an original at all. And so maybe we did deserve that cliche of an ending.

And yet it is different with this other film I saw yesterday. Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha's Rio [2011], the sixth feature film from Blue Sky Studios, was the perfect antidote to a Monday that threatened to collapse under the weight of blah-ness. I caught it on the big screen, as any animated film of such glorious colors as this should be, with Jasper and Anna. We needed this kind of film. It was a delightful romp filled with just-nice-enough songs and a motley crew of lovable animal characters that have the splashy wit of a Brazilian sunshine. There was enough pop culture referentiality in it to delight the adults in us -- such as when the rumble scene started with somebody shouting "Birds versus Monkeys!" (a dig, of course, into the popular game of Angry Birds). But there was also enough romance, and enough side-splitting comedy. It doesn't have the emotional heft of last year's How to Train Your Dragon, but that's perfectly fine. It does say something about the evils of poaching, the tenuous bonds of friendship and trust, the quick iPhone-adaptability of marmosets, and the helpful white lies you can deliver to make your toucan wife allow you to do the Carnaval. It also has something to say about the metaphors of cages and flying. And of course, in the end, when everything else seems to fail, what prevails is true love.

As always.

If only life were that simple.

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