In romance, the “getting together” is the story, the “falling in love” the end, but in the latest movie from Viva Films, “Never Not Love You,” the love is only the beginning.
Written and directed by Antoinette Jadaone, “Never Not Love You” explores what happens to a couple once the heady, intoxicating rush of new love is over and life—with all its responsibilities and complications—rears its ugly, unavoidable head.
It tells the love story of Joanne (Nadine Lustre), a young professional working in the big city to provide for her family in the province, and Gio (James Reid), a carefree graphic designer and tattoo artist who lives for himself thanks to a well-off dad funding his lifestyle. She’s a pragmatic realist who has clear-cut goals and looks to the future. He’s a romantic idealist who lives in the here and now. Yet despite their wildly opposite natures, they meet, connect and fall in love. And then reality checks in.
There is so much to admire about “Never Not Love You.” It’s a viscerally gorgeous film—from its cinematography and camera work, to its color grading and atmospheric sound and music choices. It is also Reid’s and Lustre’s best work so far.
Like in their previous projects together, Lustre and Reid—collectively known as JaDine—are electric together on the big screen. Their chemistry is undeniable. There is no awkward moment in movie. They sell it all: the romance, attraction, even the love.
Their growth as actors is all the more apparent in their performances. The two have always been seen as more “mature” in contrast with their contemporaries—an epithet that has both served and hindered their careers. But with Jadaone’s direction, Lustre and Reid prove that there is more to them than their overly zealous fan base and social media scandals.
Reid sheds the dreamy Prince Charming persona he usually inhabits on the small screen as he portrays the charismatic yet entitled Gio. There are times when Reid’s attractiveness distracts from his performance, but here he is able to balance his character’s magnetic charm and fiery artistic temperament. That despite his carpe diem attitude, Gio has insecurities and a deep-set anger that motivate his decisions and actions.
Lustre, on the other hand, evokes a wealth of meaning and emotion in her performance as Joanne. Her character’s struggle is evident in Lustre’s every expression, gesture and line. There is a scene in the latter half of the film that echoes a happier moment in Joanne and Gio’s relationship that seems to reinforce their diverging life and career paths. Lustre’s stillness and brooding silence in it reveal her character’s inner conflict more than any words could say.
She also proves that she is ready take on more emotionally demanding roles. And it would be exciting to see her challenge herself in a story that goes beyond love teams and romance.
But the true strength of the film, its real star, is writer-director Antoinette Jadaone herself.
In “Never Not Love You,” Jadaone shows us a different side of herself as a storyteller. There is a vulnerability in her, a willingness to get more intimate with her characters all the while exposing her innermost thoughts as she tells their stories.
It is clear that Jadaone is not just a lover of romance, but a student of it as well. Joanne and Gio’s love story is by no means groundbreaking yet Jadaone weaves a complex, rich and poignant narrative around it. She illustrates the whirlwind of romance, how people can lose themselves in love, but also the reality of it, how these very same people are left reeling and displaced once the rush is over.
In “Never Not Love You,” Jadaone turns romance formula on its head. Instead of meet-cutes and zany premises, we see a simple encounter between two people. Instead of quirky characters, we meet Joanne’s loving family, her strict but supportive mentor, and Gio’s sensible friends. Instead of an abundance of hugot lines, we watch how “I love you” can lose its luster as it is said over and over again. Instead of music to underscore the romance, silence identifies the film’s most powerful moments. And instead of kilig for kilig’s sake, we witness a couple struggling to keep their love alive.
It is unfortunate then that “Never Not Love You” makes a glaring misstep in its final scenes. There is an abrupt, almost cursory way to which the film reaches its conclusion, as if some scenes were mistakenly left on the cutting room floor. The movie is careful to portray its characters as individuals who make tough decisions no matter how reckless or thoughtful, so it is baffling to see that care gone toward the end.
Still, it is apparent that the final scene will be the movie’s most contentious. People may argue that it isn’t open-ended, but there is an uncertainty, a wariness that implies that it isn’t as straight-forward as it may seem. And it would be interesting to know how the audience will decode those last few moments.
“Never Not Love You” not only showcases what makes JaDine so captivating on the screen, it also reveals Jadaone’s evolution as an even more thoughtful and compelling storyteller. Raw, real and quite resonant, it is a mature and subdued romance-drama that meditates more on relationships than romance, on life’s uncertainty than love’s endurance.