In a cinematic landscape slowly embracing all forms of multiversal concepts, Ngayon Kaya plays like an old-fashioned romantic comedy where the notion of parallel universes exists purely as an escapist fantasy for two almost lovers. While there are indeed recurring discussions on ‘what ifs?’ that structurally delineate the story between two different time periods, it is the unrelenting desire to escape, whether it be through music, nostalgia, or dreams, that conveys a far more interesting portrait of the lead characters in Prime Cruz’s latest feature.
When we are introduced to Janine Guttierez’s AM Fernandez, she is late to a friend’s wedding and runs into Paulo Avelino’s Harold. Their brief exchange hints at a messy history neither one is quite prepared to get back into. As certain landmarks of their friendship (often through songs or visual cues) sneak into their long day, the film cuts back to their time in college as they slowly settle into a friendship that finds them writing music and performing together as a band. We witness Harold’s socioeconomic woes hold him back from fully embracing AM’s free-spirited aspirations. Hers is a lifestyle populated by wealthy insensitive friends and a recklessness that pushes her to chase lofty dreams. Harold, on the other hand, needs to juggle odd jobs and worry about their family’s provincial fish pond business while he entertains AM’s ambitions for them as a band. Despite their backgrounds, they are receptive to each other’s struggles, and it’s a credit to the film how that social disparity never overwhelms or renders its lead characters suddenly indifferent in a ploy to manufacture conflict. Instead, the film argues how most of their unsettled issues could have been resolved had they simply spoken up at key turning points in their relationship.
This meditation on overdue conversations, regrets, and the slow demise of unrequited love has arguably been a popular trend in recent local romance films. It comes as no surprise why Ngayon Kaya may draw comparisons with Paulo Avelino’s own I’m Drunk I Love You from a few years ago. The film also shares a lot of themes and timeline-hopping novelties with films like Meet Me In St. Gallen and even, to a certain extent, Janine Guttierez’s own Elise. Where Ngayon Kaya differs, however, is in its approach to dialogue. The film often eschews the aimless off-the-cuff conversations of those previous titles to talk about the character’s immediate concerns head-on. Often these conversations are punctuated by a revelatory epiphany that AM says out loud. While it could be attributed as a character quirk, the pervasive self-seriousness in many of the conversations that take place between the two central characters could have benefited from more of the random moments of levity that the film’s supporting cast provides.
Some lines in the film seem to have been lifted straight from Linklater’s Before trilogy. And because of the narrative structure of the characters having just a few hours left before going their separate ways, I half-expected the film to throw a swerve; where the recurring dialogue about parallel universes might suddenly come into play. Towards the end of the film, AM and Harold enter Saguijo and catch the band Mayonnaise play their hit song Jopay – a song that meant a lot to them when they first started as friends. Through this scene, the film suddenly alters pace. The sequence lingers in this encapsulated moment of nostalgia as the camera moves from the band, to the audience, to AM, and to Harold within the full length of the song. The lines ‘aalis tayo sa tunay na mundo’ (‘we will leave the real world behind’) reverberating from the singer’s mouth to the voices of the characters and the bellows of the crowd as the camera kept shifting perspectives. For a moment it seemed like the film would suddenly be enveloped in its thesis of parallel universes, where this blissful escape to their youth after a suspiciously convenient missed flight gave them a few more hours would be nothing more than a manifested, bottled universe where AM and Harold did find themselves together ever so briefly. But alas, the sequence ends after the full song, and we watch the remainder of those few hours play out as intended.
When the film finally does conclude, we are left with an open ending that could lead into two different directions. A central character is at an identical position from several years ago, and the character is conflicted about whether or not to pursue the same path. The gravity of this decision really only received any weight from the last few hours, and there hadn’t been enough evidence on-screen to convince of a drastic character change. Even if the eventual turnout could be up for debate, the film doesn’t give the audience enough reason to root for its central relationship for the ending to have a haunting impact. Instead of the realistic proposition, where the film shines is in those pocket moments where we escape along with the lead characters. There are a handful of moments devoid of dialogue where we see the unbridled chemistry of AM and Harold past the immediacy of their issues. There are also moments like a live jam over a late-night radio show where they rediscover and experiment with their music, a phone call over an airport and a concert, and a practice session tucked away in a restaurant kitchen that all seem to exist in their own isolated worlds.
These moments all seem frozen in the characters’ desire to escape, to pause the imminence of what comes next. And while the film may relish the idea that there are infinite possibilities in other universes to compensate for the outcome that transpired within the chosen reality of the film, it remains in that longing; that helpless urge to escape into something better or something familiar that grounds Ngayon Kaya from its wishful thinking.