Few things are as satisfying as a good love story, and if there’s anything Filipino cinema has mastered over the decades, it’s telling them. There’s certainly a lot of dreck—the byproducts of an industry that often sacrifices quality and originality for quantity and star power—but every once in a while, it churns out an understated gem like Theodore Boborol’s Vince & Kath & James. That makes it all worthwhile.
The film’s conceit is essentially Cyrano de Bergerac for the text generation: A soft-spoken but eloquent man (Vince) helps his more dashing but less articulate cousin (James) court a girl they are both in love with (Kath) via anonymous text. At first glance, this may seem like millennial pandering, but the film never truly sacrifices its story or its characters for the sake of its conceit. Rather, it strategically employs its conceit to round out its more important elements in ways traditional storytelling would not allow.
The SMS courtship unfolds entirely in the first act, and makes for some unrealistic viewing. In this age of catfishing and social media anonymity, the idea that a sensible young girl would fall for someone she’d only interacted with through text is difficult to swallow. Fortunately, the film jettisons the gimmick as soon as it’s able, settling into a groove that, while formulaic, is far less clunky.
The film pulls its story off so well mainly due to the chemistry between its three leads, particularly Joshua Garcia’s quietly intricate performance as Vince. He imbibes the character with real nuance and grace, as he navigates the various tragedies of his young life with his head held high. It’s one of the more satisfying portrayals of the “Nice Guy” archetype in Filipino cinema, and is the film’s beating heart and soul.
A crucial, if not largely ignored, factor in the film’s impact is its commitment to depicting the regular hustle and bustle of college life, beyond just the love story at its narrative’s center. Long Xerox lines, OJTs, and thesis problems are all given tasteful screen time here, giving the film a touch of reality that only makes it more impactful.
Ultimately, Vince & Kath & James has far more in common with the classic teen rom-coms of the 80’s and 90’s than it does any modern love story. Like those films, it concerns itself with chronicling the lives of regular teenagers, and the very well-worn turns of young love, and while it hits many of the familiar beats, it does so with charm and genuine heart. It is formula done right, and a worthy little film among this year’s crop of thematic heavyweights.
After all, few things enthrall quite like a good love story.