Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story) follows Sid (Dingdong Dantes), an insomniac working in the cutthroat business of stock trading. He spends many of his sleepless nights hanging out at a coffee shop near his condo. It is at this coffee shop that he meets Aya (Anne Curtis), a crafty young go-getter trying to save up enough money to go fly to Japan to reunite with her mother. Sid offers Aya money to spend time with him through his sleepless nights. The relationship, at first, is purely made up of late night conversations. But as the two spend more and more time with each other, it becomes difficult to resist their attraction to each other.
There’s an interesting dynamic at play here. The central relationship of the movie is for all intents and purposes founded on economic inequity. It’s a transactional relationship: they spend time with each other because Sid is willing to pay Aya for her company. The gets boldly pragmatic about this situation, spiralling out from the core of this exchange into an examination of class and familial ties. What at first appears to be just another story of a sad guy getting his life turned around by a manic pixie dream girl becomes something a little more grounded in tougher realities, with just this layer of dark discomfort lending gravity to their interactions.
There’s no getting around the implications of this relationship. There’s a point where the film even hangs a lampshade on it, references another movie that involves what basically amounts to a paid-for friendship. But there’s a lot being said here, especially as the film gets deeper into the backstories of the characters. The film builds something strangely substantial from the contrasting histories of the two, which led them into distinctly different relationships with the people in their past that aren’t around. Sid has built a life around getting away from his pain, while Aya is building a path towards reuniting with it, and in so doing, echoing a life that hardly seems worth repeating.
Over all of this, over the personal tale of these two people who seem to actually get to liking each other, hangs the added discomfort of the economic reality that defines their interactions. As the title says, it isn’t quite a love story, though it might be worth mentioning that the film doesn’t always seem to be fully committed to that idea. Having said that, the movie becomes compelling as it explores the limits of this particularly relationship, exploring the cruelty inherent to the sheer disparity of their situations. Maybe the two actually feel something for each other, but there will always be a financial taint to it.
But again, the film is awfully pragmatic about these things. It does paint some of their interactions with a darker brush, Pao Oredain’s moody cinematography matching with an off-kilter score to highlight the more squeamish qualities of their pairing. Dingdong Dantes is always best on screen when he’s playing characters that aren’t quite sympathetic. His Sid is a frustrated ball of suppressed emotions, finding little pleasure in anything other than this unusual relationship that he’s formed. Anne Curtis is pretty great as Aya, the actress putting on a bubbly bravado that barely conceals the cumulative hurt that she’s experiencing.
Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story) falters at points, particularly in the end where it seems to waver in its commitment to its own themes. But overall, there’s something worth seeing in this movie. It presents many of the same elements as other romantic pictures, but it scrubs away at the very idea of romance by putting in the context of something a little less pure, a little less ideal. And through that, the movie makes the relationship mean something a little more than usual. It’s standing in for some of the absurdities inherent to current society, to the ways in which we are subject to economics. It’s a wild, weirdly pragmatic film that might actually make one think.