It feels like 100 Tula Para Kay Stella was directed by two persons: the first half, someone from a teenybopper TV show and the second half, an indie. Simply put, the film is uneven, but if you stay awake after the first hour, you will delight in the innovative storytelling of the second.
On the surface, the story is the typical unrequited love story between an awkward nerd Fidel (JC Santos) and confident rock chick Stella (Bela Padilla). The friendship between the guy with a stutter and a three-word rule (just go with it) and the popular, too-cool-for-school girl develops naturally, which is a credit to the lead actors. The chemistry between them helps the audience so that they are rooting for the underdog despite the match being unrealistic. Therefore, we are swept away by the story.
The movie follows Fidel as he enters college, allowing moviegoers to see how he changes as each year passes.
JC is charming and engaging as Fidel. For the most part, he sticks to the three-word rule, though in a few parts, he speaks more than three in a row straight. The more important part is that, even half an hour into the movie, we don’t feel so annoyed with his speech that we want to make him stop--he makes Fidel endearing and relatable.
Bela lights up the big screen with her presence. Though at first, it may feel like her pa-rockstar stance might get old fast, she makes Stella more than an object of obsession, as she becomes an object of affection. But still, their believable performances do not help us overcome the uneasiness of the first half being very similar to many other teen romances we’ve seen in the past: guy secretly loves girl but cannot seem to tell her, and she dances off with different guys, while he remains in the friendzone.?
Nostalgically set in the first part of the 2000s, it’s interesting to see how technology, music, and to a lesser extent, fashion, have changed in a span of just over a decade. The art department is to be lauded for the attention to detail and, particularly amusing, are the still-functioning Nokia cellphones they managed to unearth and utilize.
The soundtrack is appropriate and to the credit of the musical score, does not overpower the scenes. They are also highly "hummable" and “singable”...in a manner of speaking. Like poetry, songs are an important part of the narrative, and they move the story along. It is a delight to see and hear Bela, JC, and Prince Stefan (as Fidel’s roommate, Chuck) give life to their characters through song.
Of note among the supporting cast are Ana Abad Santos as JC’s teacher and Dennis Padilla as his father. Their times on screen are never wasted.
The poetry in the story is also uneven. For the most part, Fidel writes his poetry in Tagalog by hand in a notebook but eventually shifts to writing in English on a laptop. This is a good device used by the director to show the change happening in Fidel, not only in terms of location but also his personality and maturity. However, some poems are insightful and reflect the painful, pinching longing for someone, and others seem to have been forced to rhyme--all the time. (Get it?)
The second part of the story is unmistakable different, edgier than the first. The difference is stark in the variety of shots, the cinematography, the editing. It takes us deeper into the character of Stella--yes, even to the dark recesses that we only assumed were there to begin with. And where the first part simply lays everything out for the viewer to take in, the second part involves the members of the audience think--about what happens after a scene ends, several times at that. There are more gaps for the mind to play in, to get creative.
The emotional confrontation scene is highly emotionally-charged. It is set against the beautiful backdrop of Mt. Arayat after the rain, and is highly appropriate. It is also a satisfying climax.
Is this movie for those who have had their hearts broken? Yes. Is this movie for those who have been friendzoned? Definitely. Is this movie for those who find Bela or JC attractive? Most definitely.
100 Tula Para Kay Stella is one of the 12 entries of the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino spearheaded by the Film Development Council of the Philippines. The film will be shown nationwide from August 16-22, 2017.
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.