(A/N: I wasn’t going to write one. Changed my mind. As of this writing, I have seen the film six times — yes, I know, six. It has gotten clearer after the first two screenings. [Disclosure: I’m a fan of CharDawn.]

EDIT: Saw it yet another time. Seven times. Yeah. Okay? Okay, good.)

The Love Affair (dir. Nuel Naval, 2015) begins with a marriage with cracks, weakened by the years and a tragedy that has torn the couple apart. Vince (Richard Gomez) figures out that his wife, Tricia (Dawn Zulueta), is cheating on him.

While it’s not as bad as he perceives it to be, she asks him to forgive her (“Kasi may kasalanan ako sa’yo”). Credit it to ego, hurt, or whatever else: he can’t bring himself to do so. He turns to Taal Lake and his hobby, sailing.

And then he meets Adie (Bea Alonzo), a young lawyer who’s afraid to be alone. She finds that her fiance cheated on her, too. She breaks up with him, her job, and the life she has pictured for herself.

Put two broken spirits together, throw them into a Hobie over gorgeous waters, and you can pretty much guess what happens between them, as the film stuck to the formula in some way.

Vince and Adie: ‘Masaya’ (Screenshot courtesy of Star Cinema)

Of course there are efforts to step out of this: wife cheats on husband first, a less explored terrain, albeit treated in this film more as a subtle backgrounder blown out to justify the man’s cheating. All things considered, that’s an exciting enough story to begin with, and even when people dismiss it to be “just another mistress movie,” I’m pretty sure the very same people are just as curious — we love stories of infidelity, don’t we?

That said, the film has its moments, but isn’t without faults.

The flaws lie primarily in the story itself: While it has potential to be a refreshing take, it still falls into some of the traps — a need to address the demand for hugot lines more than just letting the characters talk (or not talk!); a few scenes that feel too staged to be believable, while others aren’t established enough; the rush to the end, after a respectable pace through two-thirds of the film.

There are details that can’t be masked by the gloss, the shifts in lens focus, the intricate camera work. It’s the ringtone that fills the silence during Vince’s narration while the phone is stuck with its lock screen. It’s moments when dubbing doesn’t match the talking head. Yes, these little details can get distracting.

Technicalities out of the way, it must be said that the movie’s greatest strength is its lead actors.

Proving her place as one of the few bona fide actors of this generation, Bea Alonzo delivers as Adie, a hollowed-out shell of a girl who depends on others’ affection and warmth to keep her steady. Noteworthy are her confrontation scene with Tom Rodriguez (who plays her fiance) and the tearjerker moment where she is slapped with truth courtesy of underrated talent Ina Feleo.

Of the leads, her acting — her tone — passes off as most natural.

Richard Gomez proves there’s something more to his return other than the fact that age hasn’t messed with his good looks. There are lapses here and there as far as the delivery of his lines is concerned, but you forgive him for it, especially when he’s acting with his eyes. It’s a (wonderful) surprise to see him in tears, though he visibly struggles with it at the scene where it is most needed. His character, Vince, is someone you root for despite his infidelity — he’s likable, charming, and almost believable in his brokenness as the one who was cheated on (well, I say almost, given his reputation as a lothario before).

And of course, there’s the incandescent Dawn Zulueta as Tricia.

You are drawn most by her eyes, smitten. That’s your focal point, whether she’s looking affectionately at her onscreen husband, or in tears because of yet another argument.

Some of the film’s best moments are hers: the phone call she makes to Vince in the car (“Late na… Nasaan ka?”), and her version of the flashbacks. The latter — when she recalls “how small and insignificant” she felt against her husband, builder of the home she keeps — illustrates the actress’ range in less than five minutes: from a mother who loses it as she watches her son wither away, to a wife silently seething in her grief, to a woman who slowly finds her footing.

Plus, given the limitations she has set on intimate scenes, it must be appreciated that she stepped up to the challenges of her role without resorting to showing (too much) skin.

The ladies come together for their only scene,
a treat as its actresses match in looks and skill.

While the scene drags a few seconds and lines too long, it’s a face-off that will likely resound in pop culture, a classy take on wife-meets-mistress,
of dagger looks and stinging words.

On that note, though, The Love Affair leaves you wanting for more scene with Tricia in it — whether alone or with Vince.

I say that not just as a fan, but in aid of the story. It would have been nice to have a few more scenes to invest in, to take you further through their struggles and their good times, to revel in that rare, palpable chemistry the actors still share.

With what’s available, though, it’s surreal to sit in a movie theatre and see them larger-than-life. The scenarios, however, are no longer as grand as they were in the ‘90s.

The Love Affair places them in the ultimate could-have-been: married for 24 years, with kids of their own, a life together, and still beautiful despite the lines that come with age.

Only that it’s set in the beginning of an end — Tricia sought affection elsewhere, it breaks Vince and leads him down the same path.

It’s no longer the stuff of the classics — no more sweeping gestures at the hill, or declarations of undying love at the balcony overlooking the picturesque Batanes, no guns sounding off, and nobody dies (literally anyway).

It’s the two of them in common spaces: fighting inside the car as they wait for the light to turn green, at the dining table listening to their children talk over dinner, sitting before “a stranger with a PhD” in an attempt to solve their marital woes, in the bedroom, at the backyard, at the doorstep, sharing ice cream and coffee.

And you find yourself rooting for them anyway (perhaps even more so), the way you root for Gabriel, Arman, and Leo to win over/back Carmina, Clara, and Alita. The way you walk with Amanda in her tireless search for Miguel. The way you hold your breath as Athena and Kenji’s eyes finally meet from across the room.

It’s a comeback that spells out why they have lasted for as long as they have — as prolific actors and as onscreen partners.

Despite problems in the storytelling, the remarkable thing about The Love Affair is its heart. In particular, the heart of its lead characters.

The film doesn’t make you choose a side in this triangle. It’s plain and simple: They’re all good people. They’ve all done wrong. They’ve all been utterly stupid… and that’s okay. You root for them to overcome their problems.

Heart is most apparent in two scenes: first, Adie’s moment with her father (played by Al Tantay), where she looks back at her younger self’s hope for her parents’ reconciliation (“… na sana sapat na akong dahilan para hindi kayo maghiwalay ni Mama”). Bea’s natural tone renders this one even more relatable because, hey, we have all heard this story in our lives — we may have even lived in it.

And there are the flashbacks, two versions, as told in Vince and Tricia’s points of view. These are well-crafted: from the camera work (an impressive thing about the film throughout, but in this part in particular) to the nuances in the characters’ recollections.

The film’s core is human frailty, and after all that’s said (hopefully for the next attractions’ improvement), The Love Affair draws you in because you recognize yourself somewhere in the interwoven stories.

The Love Affair is now on its second week.

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