Exes Baggage (Dan Villegas, 2018): Makes Me Think I’m a Plant or Vegetable

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Exes Baggage stars Angelica Panganiban as Pia and Carlo Aquino as Nix, in a love story that revives and capitalizes on this couple’s past relationship. What’s weird for me to feel though is, despite the witty exchanges and the casual delivery of lines believable and nostalgic, I could still not erase the image of this pair as kids and of their puppy love. Hence, when they kiss, it does not arrive to me as too sexual. Or have I really turned asexual?

There are no other backstory strains for us to cling to. There are no family angles, no funny or marked cliques to stand as the couple’s conscience. The movie is generally just about man and woman, discovering each other, exchanging details and bits of who and what they were in their past relationship and eventually having to talk about what went wrong.

Crucial is the fact that Nix seems to be still enamored or has not moved on with his relationship with his ex-fiancé, Dwein. Dwein Baltazar, for everybody’s information, is the name of the scriptwriter. It’s wickedly smart that she disallows her male character to move on from what could be an overt representation of herself. It’s a clever ‘curse’ that she has given him. Because usually some writers gets drawn into or fall in love with their creations. They are the ones enslaved, even obsessed with their inventions that when it’s time to let them go, to release the book or realize and finally see them on the big screen, such writers experience separation anxiety with their ‘babies.’ Dwein turns it upside down. Her strategy feels like a form of revenge to that ‘phenomenon’, a form of ‘getting even.’

That could be taken as well as part of her declaration that here the women are the stronger sex: assertive (Pia started the conversation with Nix, delivered the pick up line), perfectionist and superior (Dwein checked the alignment of chairs), more experienced in relationships (Pia had 7 boyfriends, Nix just had one–or he lied), more organized (the condo unit of Pia versus the workshop-pad of Nix), more financially stable (symbolized by Ogie, Pia’s car). At the end of the movie, we will be convinced that women are emotionally stronger than men.

That also seems to be a recurring theme in the romance genre movies of Dan Villegas (The Break-up Playlist, Always Be My Maybe, Hintayan ng Langit, to cite some movies of his I’ve seen). He tells stories of women who are the stronger ones in their relationships, (the male, either immature or tentative). It’s a cool position that Villegas has consistently taken. Reminds me of Kurt Cobain in his peak wishing more woman-bands in the music business, supporting a few women groups by making them front acts to his band Nirvana’s concerts and gigs.

I have lost track of the names of cinematographers whom Dan Villegas had worked with, but the combination of colors green and red here and in his other films (sometimes neon versions of the two colors) must be the director’s more than the d.o.p.’s choice. It catches my attention. Colors of life and love, of abundance and passion, proving that the basic color theory for those hues really works magic on the frames. These are little but essential visual details that could also stand for both male and female. But why not blue for the male? Perhaps, (spoiler alert!) it will happen when Vilegas makes the switch and when he does not end his movie like a fairy tale does.

~Robert Cerda

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