Manila (CNN Philippines) — Screams are coming from all over the place.
They continue to come in spasms, ebbing and flowing as the night rolls on to reveal the much-awaited spectacle. There are cameras aimed in every direction, as if covering every possible angle from which their targets could suddenly materialize; event security is beefier than usual, the sort of protection usually reserved for something more like a political rally. But given the fever pitch, and the strong number — and intensity — of people who have showed up, it’s becoming apparent that the barricades might burst anyway when their beloved couple finally walk that red carpet. The said couple being James Reid and Nadine Lustre — the “love team” known as JaDine.
Any premiere night is a massive day for the fans, an opportunity for adulation where banners bearing photos of JaDine are waved at video cameras, magazines are deemed viable replacements for posters, and other fan merchandise, including pillows and cologne bottles, become symbols that prove devotion. It’s almost as if you’re in the thick of a religious procession.
Even at the end of the hall in SM Megamall’s cineplex, where the theater premiering “This Time,” JaDine’s summer romantic movie, can be found, the screams evoke a different high. Whipping up the crowd are two hosts, one of whom remarks, “Akala mo may roller coaster!”
It is a bit frightening to discover that people can come together to generate this much noise, especially in such an enclosed area. It reaches its peak when JaDine finally arrives, holding hands, faces beaming with smiles, and only nine minutes late. The cheering swells as they walk the entire hall; lights grow even brighter, flashes even more blinding. They make their way up the makeshift stage near the theater entrance. There are LED screens projecting a live feed as they thank their fans for attending tonight’s premiere. Other celebrities join them onstage, including Vice Ganda, whom they previously worked with in the MMFF film “Beauty and the Bestie.” They proceed backstage, as this was just a customary hi and hello. Fans hurry inside the cinema.
As the cinema fills to seating capacity, people spill into the walkways. Guards are deployed to monitor people. The smell of popcorn grows stronger as the waiting continues. But the air is thick with excitement. “D’yan ka lang!” one of the ladies beside me tells her friend as she excuses herself to go to the bathroom. “Bantayan mo yung lugar natin!” We are standing in the walkway dividing the deluxe and premier sections, begrudgingly admitting to ourselves that this is the spot we’ll have to occupy for the duration of the movie. We have to be strong. Elsewhere, another swell of cheering ensues. JaDine could show up onstage any minute now, so people crowd the door leading backstage. Camera crews also begin to flash their lights in that direction. Minutes later, the cast and the director emerge. More thank yous, screams, and cheering. They exit the stage and make their way to their seats. More attempts at photos and selfies. The theater finally settles down, and after hearing the movie’s theme song a thousand times, and a few bouts of actual frightened screaming thanks to the trailer of an upcoming supernatural horror film, “This Time” starts — and what follows is two hours of kilig and even more kilig.
A departure from the kookiness of their first starrer, “Diary ng Panget,” “This Time” tackles the struggles of childhood sweethearts, Coby (Reid) and Ava (Lustre), as they attempt to survive a long-distance relationship. They have a good support system in their family and friends, who prove to be a constant source of comic relief. The first time Reid and Lustre’s names come up on screen, the theater erupts in cheers and giggles. The cheering and giggling become more earnest as more pivotal scenes play on: first meeting, first kiss, then another kiss, meaningful glances, holding hands, a joke, an attempt at defining the relationship, sweet exchanges, declaration of love, and resolution. In one scene, there is a discussion of “Romeo and Juliet” in Ava's class, which shouldn’t be a good sign when you’re in a romantic movie, but the supposed parallels between the Shakespeare play and this film are mapped out out sans the death angle.
In “This Time”, the lessons the characters — Reid’s Coby in particular — draw from their situations are a bit more inspired than those found in most other romantic films, which tend to lean toward the safe and saccharine. Seeing an older couple cozy it up under cherry blossom trees, Coby gestures toward Ava as if to mirror the snuggling a few feet from them. “Gaya-gaya tayo?” she asks. But Coby answers, “No, let’s learn from them,” seemingly with the intention of unshackling themselves not only from the burden of their past, but also that of any other couple they’ve seen stay together or grow apart. And in a later teary confession, he tells Ava, “Thank you for loving me when I least deserved it.” It could have been as straightforward as “Thank you for loving me,” but taking into consideration all that they have been through, and having put Ava in such a frustrating situation, he’s mature enough to assert the blame on his side.
“This Time” is about love and its blossoming, an endearing testament to its power and capacity for surprise. Its structure might follow the conventions of films of its ilk — particularly the clunky third act and customary slogan-ready lines about love such as, “Ang naka-move on, parang nag-angioplasty, pero ang naka-recover, kailangan ng heart transplant.” — but how it treats its cast of characters and their respective romantic entanglements depict a dimension of love that bristles with hope, no matter how dire the circumstances may be. It’s why it manages to have a scene where someone dances next to a cadaver; another where a kiss is planted on a lover’s face, even if it’s just through a laptop; and an arc where a search for a former flame is done without the aid of the Internet. Oh, and Ronnie Lazaro plays a gay storekeeper dispensing advice and quotes from a Bette Midler song. And there’s a “Garden State” moment — but instead of The Shins, it’s Freestyle.
The movie ends. People clap and cheer and rush to the exits. It’s already 10 p.m. and tomorrow is another workday. “Panoorin ko na lang ulit bukas,” I overhear someone say.