Labored Plotting Weakens the Appeal of ‘I Love You Hater’

An overly contrived narrative hangs over an otherwise sweet young romance

by Philbert Dy

I Love You, Hater is about Joko and Zoey (Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto), two young people with family issues who both end up competing for the lucrative position of assistant to online lifestyle icon Sasha (Kris Aquino). In order to get the job, Joko, who is used to having to lie to keep up appearances, pretends to be gay, and he gets stuck having to keep up the charade. Things get real complicated when Joko and Zoey start putting aside their differences, and become genuinely close as they work together. Joko struggles to maintain his illusions, afraid of hurting the people he loves.

The set up to the story is really labored. We first meet Zoey rushing to the airport to see her father, who turns out to have another family that doesn’t know about her. Joko, on the other hand, Skypes in to his family, pretending to be in New York after getting scammed by an illegal recruiter. This is all before the main contrivance of him stumbling into the vicinity of Sasha,  being offered a job out of a blue, and lying about his sexuality within the first ten minutes of meeting his potential new boss.

It’s a lot to take in, and the plot continues down its artificial course deep into the middle of this movie. And for all the work the movie does to create this unlikely scenario, it doesn’t really takes the characters anywhere novel. The lessons that are eventually going to be learned are pretty much laid out right from the start, and the movie holds tightly to the expected formula. That being said, it does reach some nice moments eventually. Again, none of this feels new, but working within the limited possibilities, the movie is able to build to some sequences that manage to resonate.

The movie doesn’t  get to resolving every issue it introduces in the overstuffed buildup, but this might actually be preferable to the alternative of creating an equally overstuffed third act. And when characters are finally forced to reckon with the consequences of their actions, the movie is able to stage reasonably effective dramatic scenes. But even then, this doesn’t negate the overly contrived plotting, nor does it make the central romance any more workable. The specter of the premise hangs over the interactions of the two main characters, adding a problematic layer to an otherwise sweet pairing.

The movie looks and feels like a conventional romcom, which is kind of disappointing given the risks that many filmmakers have taken in trying to advance the genre. Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto remain pretty appealing together, the two mostly weathering the narrative gymnastics. Kris Aquino basically leans into the persona she’s already become known for, and it works pretty well for the most part. But the character itself adds another layer of convolution to this already overstuffed plot, the attempt to humanize the character just weighing down the story even further.

I Love You, Hater kind of starts working in the back half, when it’s mostly done with having to contrive reasons for things to happen, and can just concentrate on having these characters deal with their various situations. But it’s far too late into the movie for things to click into place. And even then, the plotting can still feel labored, the film liberally using mere coincidence to drive the story, rather than trying to find organic ways to impel these characters forward. The place where the film ends up is kind of okay, but the path there is really bumpy, and it’s not quite worth the trip.

I Love You, Hater is current in cinemas. Stills taken from Youtube.