Almost a Love Story tracks the long distance friendship between Baneng (Barbie Forteza) and Iggy (Derrick Monasterio). Baneng’s mother has worked abroad for Iggy’s parents as househelp for years, and continues to live with them in Italy. Baneng and Iggy ended up becoming friends through the internet, their interactions limited to the online space. But Iggy’s family flies Baneng out to Italy to be with her mother for Christmas. The two meet in person for the very first time, which is made a little awkward and complicated, thanks to Iggy drunkenly professing his love for her just days before her trip.
It takes more than half the movie for Baneng to get to Italy. That fact on its own can’t be taken as a bad thing. Perhaps the movie was spending time establishing some important facts about the Baneng and her relationship with people around her. It could have spent that time setting up a conflict that might lead to some sort of difficult choice for the main character. But this isn’t what happens. The movie often feels like it’s stalling for time, squandering every opportunity to make its story more interesting. And at all points the main character doesn’t have the agency to make anything happen.
There is a pretty long sequence in the first act where Baneng instructs Iggy in the creation of a tuna sandwich for her mom. The idea behind the sequence isn’t bad, but the way it plays out, with us following every step of the creation of this sandwich, feels excessive. Later, the movie spends an unreasonable amount of time documenting Baneng’s journey to Italy, waiting with her at the airport for her connecting flight, watching her go up some stairs, and witnessing her reading the plane’s safety information card. The movie gets maddening in its banality, often showing us things that would have been cut out of a better film.
But things don’t actually get any better when Baneng lands on Italian soil. The film just doesn’t seem to be interested in telling a story that involves the characters having any kind of real conflict. Worse yet, there’s a development in the very last stretch of the movie that undoes what little appeal the movie might have had left. The way it plays out feels horribly improbable, the movie contrivances drama that just isn’t there. And through all of it, there really isn’t anything for our heroine to do. She isn’t even given the opportunity to feel conflicted about anything. For all intents and purposes, she is simply an object to the movie.
The film’s technical package isn’t great. At best, it looks like a fairly expensive local TV show. One might note that the English subtitles on this film are terrible. This isn’t Barbie Forteza’s finest hour as an actress. She affects a certain broadness that just doesn’t work on the big screen. In the film’s sole dramatic moment, she keeps patting her cheeks while crying, a strange gesture that distracts from the emotion the longer the scene goes on. Her leading man Derrick Monasterio doesn’t make much of an impression. But then again, the film doesn’t contain any scenes where he might make an impression as an actor.
“Almost” is too generous a word for Almost a Love Story. There isn’t really much of a love story here. To be honest, there isn’t much of a story altogether. The movie fills it runtime with dead air, its characters stuck in an incredibly banal limbo for the sake of preserving the movie’s singular reversal. Typically, a story needs characters to make choices, to have them struggling against something, or fighting for an ideal. This film doesn’t even give them the chance to do any of that, leading to a truly tedious experience.