Films that tackle mental illness are usually not easy to watch. Not because they’re badly made but often because audiences can feel the frustration and helplessness of the people who have to deal with patients suffering from these types of disorders.
Two of the more laudable films that easily come to mind include Alvin Yapan’s Mga Anino ng Kahapon which specifically tackled schizophrenia, and Cathy Garcia-Molina’s My Perfect You which focused on a man who became delusional as a result of his depression.
My Letters to Happy, the directorial debut of screenwriter Pertee Briñas (best known for writing Dan Villegas’ Always Be My Maybe) zeroes in on bipolar disorder or manic depression.
Glaiza de Castro plays the title role in My Letters to Happy. Her character changes the life of an executive named Albert (portrayed by TJ Trinidad) who is coping with the sudden demise of his mother that derails his focus.
While playing around with a dating app (think Tinder), Albert encounters Happy, a seemingly independent, free-spirited type who is not afraid to say what’s on her mind. They meet, play the popular game DOTA, and she soon becomes a constant presence in his life, cheering him up and coming over to his house to cook and do household chores. Not surprisingly, Albert soon finds himself falling for Happy.
That’s when he discovers that Happy is prone to anxiety and panic attacks and as one of her BFFs revealed to him, has not had good luck with love, as the men she was involved with immediately distance themselves from her once they learned about her mental condition.
Since Happy refuses to seek medical attention for her ailment, she soon becomes more than a handful for Albert, just as her friend warned him.
He marries her nonetheless and the rest of the film proceeds to show the ups and downs (mostly downs) of their union.
The film benefits from Glaiza de Castro’s riveting performance as Happy. She’s a delight to behold, first as a woman who at first seems to be very much in control of her life and personal choices and then a revelation when her true, fragile nature starts rearing its ugly head.
Happy has a hard time accepting rejection, as she revealed when her estranged father refuses to respond to the birthday and Christmas postcards she sends every year. She was also not particularly good in dealing with personal setbacks, such as when she loses her job as a result of her poor work performance.
Glaiza effectively conveys the difficulty of dealing with a bipolar condition where one can experience elevated mood swings for sometimes no reason at all. If we think that caring for this type of patient is bad enough, imagine what it would be like to personally endure and suffer from this disorder.
As the man whose life she brought back on track, TJ Trinidad delivers a stoic performance similar to his role as Agot Isidro’s supportive husband in Mga Anino ng Kahapon. The story is told from Albert’s point of view and just like in Mga Anino, TJ does a good job of sharing his partner’s ordeal even if the film’s screenplay (also written by Briñas) keeps his emotions in check.
Some subplots involving issues with their respective families, such as Albert’s disapproving father who left his mother for his secretary, also further the development of the two lead characters.
It’s not a particularly good creative decision for this kind of film to be shot with a shaky camera. It’s downright distracting especially during the film’s first act.
Volleyball star Alyssa Valdez is given an introducing billing. As Cindy, Albert’s personal assistant, she is the only employee in their company who is privy to what’s happening in his personal life. Her character, however, is not as fleshed out as the two leads, The film does not exactly show why she and her boss are that particularly close.
While it’s admirable that unlike My Perfect You, audiences were spared the graphic details on how the institution where Happy was confined in treated her, it also does not give enough information on how her ailment was medically addressed.
The most confusing part is the final act where despite the best efforts of Albert and her doctors, Happy remained unhappy and her condition not fully treated.
When she makes a big decision in the end regarding her relationship with Albert, does the movie suggest that the best way to deal with bipolar patients is to, well, just leave them alone to their own devices?
And although audiences can feel Albert’s pain, it’s surprising that he and even one of Happy’s BFFs are not too overtly concerned about her whereabouts after she made a crucial decision. During the latter’s wedding, both even conceded that Happy is doing okay wherever she is.
Even if it ultimately poses more questions than answers, My Letters to Happy remains an intriguing look at the complexity of bipolar disorder.
From the subtle to the not-so-subtle, Glaiza de Castro effectively delineates Happy’s many moods. The film is worth a look if only for her memorable performance and palpable chemistry with TJ Trinidad.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial team.