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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 18, 2017

Last Night Movie Review: A Whimsical Make-Believe Love Story That Is Really Hard To Do

WE FEEL SO sad for Piolo Pascual. Earlier this year, his “Northern Lights” did badly at the tills. And now, “Last Night” with Toni Gonzaga also got lukewarm reception from moviegoers. And to think it was Toni who helped in boosting his career before in “Starting Over Again”. So what went wrong?

If viewers would make a film starring someone like Empoy Marquez a huge blockbuster at the tills, how come they aren’t so hot about a leading man as good looking as Piolo? Has he lost his magic with Toni just because she’s now married and already a mom? We think the problem is in the material. The moment some folks learned that the movie is about suicide, a lot of them were quickly turned off by the idea.

We intentionally did not review the movie while it was still showing because our take will surely be a spoiler. And we don’t want to review it without being able to point out what we believe are the film’s shortcomings. Piolo plays Mark Peters. He tells Toni he’s 32 (without batting an eyelash), but we all know he’s 40 in real life.

He’s about to commit suicide after making some wrong investments with money that is not really his but belongs to an NGO. But before he can jump off Jones Bridge, he sees Toni as Carmina Salvador (cousin of Maja) hanging on a sign that foiled her own attempt to jump into the water lily-infested of the Pasig River. He rescues her and they spend the next two days together thinking of ways by which they can kill themselves together.

For a wannabe suicide, Toni seems more like a bubbly kooky free spirit who loves life and even sings a Hagibis song and “Bakit Ako Mahihiya?” When she and Piolo have dinner in a restaurant, she starts dancing with him like there’s no tomorrow and people look at them with admiration. But you see, there’s a twist here. It turns out that Toni is actually just a ghost, but like Miss World, she’s a ghost with a purpose, as she wants to save people who intend to commit suicide. And she just returned from the past to save Piolo from killing himself.

When Piolo investigates, he learns that no one really saw Toni with him. But what about all the people ogling at them while they were dancing? If Piolo was indeed all alone while they were dancing, then they wouldn’t look at him with admiration but with a look wondering if he’s going cuckoo. This was also the main fault of that movie “Nasaan Ka Man”, where Jericho Rosales’ character turned out to be also a ghost. He did so many things with Claudine Barretto and yet no one ever gave notice that she was all alone at the times that they’re supposed to be together.

“Last Night” should have ended soon after it was revealed that Toni is a restless spirit, because
everything that follows would be just anti-climactic. But no, the movie still went on and on for about 15 more tedious meandering minutes. It appears like they couldn’t figure out what kind of nice and fitting ending they would give to the movie. They even show that after life is not really in heaven but actually under water, down at the eerie bottom of the murky Pasig River.

Piolo kept returning to Jones Bridge and at this point, we really wish na sige na nga, jump na already, so the movie would end na and our agony as a viewer would also end and we can all move on. This is because Piolo’s Mark lacks enough character building scenes for us to fully invest our emotions and sympathy in him. His role never feels fully formed. So we cannot fully suspend our disbelief about the on-screen goings on. Both he and Toni could kill themselves and we couldn’t care less.

Also, Toni supposedly died in the 70s but she must be a movie-going ghost because she tells Piolo that her name Carmina was derived by her mom from Dawn Zulueta’s character in “Hihintayin Kita sa Langit” which was shown in 1991. Honestly, it’s kinda embarrassing, even for ghosts.

It’s really hard to do a whimsical make-believe love story like this, where a lot of suspension of disbelief is required, particularly for a first time scriptwriter like Bela Padilla who obviously doesn’t know how to deal adequately with its frailties that are just too tall a tale for the big screen and do not hold up well to scrutiny. Only very few films succeed in this, even in Hollywood. The best example for us is “Portrait of Jennie” which we saw at Turner Classics and is produced by the maker of “Gone with the Wind”. It’s the wistful haunting tale of a struggling painter who falls for a girl he doesn’t know is a ghost.

This movie allows us some lovely glimpses of New York, and “Last Night” also does the same for Manila, which was exquisitely shot with an elegiac quality. Other good examples of this genre of romantic fantasy involving the afterlife are “A Guy Named Joe”, “A Matter of Life and Death”, and the more recent “Ghost”. The one thing they have in common is that they’re magical, which “Last Night” is not.

Piolo gives an honest, earnest interpretation of his role but he is doing a lot of uphill battle due to the fragility of the material as a supernatural love story. An actress with a more ethereal kind of beauty would have also helped him more as the mysterious heroine, but sadly the contagiousy perky Toni just doesn’t qualify in this department and we can't help but wish they just did another variation of "Starting Over Again" instead of straying so far away from it.