The cards are stacked against Dito at Doon. Like other films in the pandemic cinema, the new film from JP Habac feels as though it had imagined a different COVID-19 outcome IRL. It seems to exist in an alternate reality where our circumstances are better, and not this long, drawn-fucking-out shitshow we’re all going through right now. If we have, for a fact, beaten the pandemic with our government’s “excellent” response, this sweet, cutesy rom-com wouldn’t have left a bitter aftertaste in the mouth.
Sadly, that hasn’t been the case—and we know that all too well.
Because how are we to get behind a film about a bubbly quaran-fling when the coronavirus—or Ms. Rona as the hip gays like to call it (her?)—still very much threatens our very existence on a daily basis? In a certain light, Dito at Doon is a perfect reminder that we are (or at least me, personally) not ready to have film studios use our ongoing plight as the backdrop to an uwu-cum-finger-heart romantic comedy. Not when tens of thousands catch the virus every day, and not when the all-star freakshow in Malacañang fiddle us over and under their gross, hairy fingers.
That isn’t to slight Habac and the film’s outfit, TBA Films, nor is it to question their intentions. The film is, like most things, a victim of our collective circumstance. In a less unfair world and a less unjust country, Dito at Doon would have been a fine rom-com that would also serve as an artifact to one of the strangest times in history. It’s light and often funny, without ever—least not totally—dismissing the fraught and anxieties we’ve had in the past year.
The film opens with Len (Janine Gutierrez), a character that the film and its squadron of mouthpiece side characters ostensibly malign as being too headstrong or too opinionated. To their credit, Len’s POV about people who go outside during the pandemic is, at best, misrepresented (as a writer, I struggle to express myself fully in long-form structured pieces, so I can only imagine how tough it is to accurately convey your message within the constraints of character limits in social media), and at worst, myopic. She comes into an online feud with a guy named Caloy (JC Santos), who points out that for people like him, the salt of the earth working-class Filipino, there isn’t really much of a choice. For a change, this rom-com’s cute-meet isn’t all cute.
It’s a fine contrast to other rom-coms, a unique note to start off a mostly sprightly film about a virtual infatuation between two people locked down at home. This setup, too, is promising and provides Habac plenty of options to tackle the toll that COVID-19 has taken on us. There are some things that Habac & Co. have hit right, and I wish that the film leaned more into these, from having to constantly swat our fears and anxieties to having to quell our thirst for human interaction. The film tries to do that in a few ways, most interestingly with its cinematography by Kara Moreno (Edward, Lucid), who frames her subjects inside walls and canvases of furniture, and lights the characters differently to show their constant aloneness and togetherness—their virtual closeness and apartness—during video calls.
For the most part though, and to the surprise of literally nobody, the film chooses cuteness rather than bouy on this taxing and very real COVID-19 effect. Fair enough. Habac and his team clearly know how to pull off cute, anyway. That’s largely thanks to Gutierrez and Santos, who share a strong chemistry together and offer their individual characters a kind of vulnerability that makes it easy to relate to them and root for their adorable online romance. Watching it, however, leaves such a conflicting feeling. There’s nothing cute about the pandemic, especially when the wound isn’t only fresh. It’s still open.