Filipino singer and actress Sarah Geronimo, no stranger to the UAE, has returned to the big screen with the romantic comedy The Breakup Playlist. And judging by the reviews from Manila, the 26-year-old star's box-office streak remains unblemished – and that's good news for the pop princess' legions of loyal fans.
But Geronimo’s success in the genre is hardly surprising. Love-centred plots have long been a staple of Philippine cinema, a tested formula worth rehashing for its enduring appeal. But the genre is also not immune to evolution; romcoms have kept up with the times – and changing tastes – of the audience. Here’s a look at why the genre is the gift that keeps on giving.
The concept of pairing two celebrities to create an illusion of reel-to-real union started with the emergence of the counterculture movement during the 1960s. Against that backdrop – amplified by rock ’n’ roll music and exposure to western cinema – Filipino producers were quick to recognise the restlessness of young audiences. Today’s Filipino filmgoers are no strangers to the monikers Guy and Pip (Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III) or Vi and Bot (Vilma Santos and Edgar Mortiz) – two of the most beloved on-screen couples in Philippine cinema.
The 1981 box-office hit Dear Heart introduced the pairing of Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion. The coming-of-age drama arguably set the foundation for Pinoy romantic films to come, and on the heels of its success came two other films starring the duo.
To their fans’ delight, Cuneta and Concepcion tied the knot, giving fans hope of a happily ever after. However, the union was short-lived and ended bitterly after three years.
The rich-poor dilemma
Girl meets boy and the two fall in love. End of story? No. Filipino romcoms are filled with the traditional rich-versus-poor conflict. This is, of course, a universal approach, but used quite prominently in Asian cinema, where the very real social divide makes for a great you-and-me-against-the-world storyline. Movies following this route are aplenty, including I Will Always Love You (2006) and Just One Summer (2012).
A light touch
While older Filipino celluloid romances leaned towards the dramatic, romcoms became dependable box-office gold because the humour balances all the tears and hand-wringing.
Geronimo's success in the genre is down to providing the light touch such stories demand. Her bubbly personality and killer one-liners have brought lasting appeal to her Ladia Magtalas character in the trilogy A Very Special Love (2008), You Changed My Life (2009), and It Takes a Man and a Woman (2013). Geronimo's other romcom blockbusters include: Won't Last a Day Without You (2011) and Maybe This Time (2014). Then there are the big earners that don't feature Geronimo, such as Got 2 Believe (2002); Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo (2007); My Big Love (2008) and My Amnesia Girl (2010).
Between the lines
Pinoy romantic novels are another rich source for producers and screenwriters to pillage from; the sheer melodrama on offer has provided ample material to generate successful drama series and movies.
These books are also credited with introducing fresh concepts that veer away from the formulaic plots churned out by the film industry. Modern romance writers, aside from being young, have more creative flexibility and are not constrained by the mainstream notion of “marketability” as dictated by film producers.
Successful adaptations include Bakit Hindi Ka Crush Ng Crush Mo? (2013), She's Dating The Gangster (2014) and Diary Ng Panget (2014).
A new generation of screenwriters and independent film studios have also emerged to develop the Filipino romcom. For a glimpse of the future of the genre, check out English Only, Please (2014) and That Thing Called Tadhana (2015).
• The Breakup Playlist is out on Thursday, July 9