All road trip movies are a journey of two paths — the actual, physical journey and the emotional one. The journey itself is a metaphor for something deeper. The most successful road trip movies do this.
“Love You to the Stars and Back” has all the elements of a road trip romantic comedy, and while most rom-coms use the journey as a metaphor for the blossoming romance, director and writer Antoinette Jadaone layers the film with both romance and something much more serious, and much darker.
Mika (played by Julia Barretto) has not moved on from her mother’s death and is unfriendly to her father’s new love. When he tells her that she is going to be a sister, Mika runs away, taking her car to Mt. Milagros where her mother said aliens would come to take them away. Coincidentally, she literally bumps into Caloy (played by Joshua Garcia), a cheerful young man who is biking across Batangas to visit his absentee father to tell him he’s got cancer.
Having run over his foot, Mika offers to give Caloy a ride and as the two share their stories, they start to fall in love.
Jadaone shows off her skills at making two characters fall in love. This is aided immensely by Joshua Garcia’s unbelievable charm, Julia Barretto’s commitment to her character, and their off-the-charts chemistry. Garcia and Barretto are wonderful actors, playing polar opposites. The privileged Mika is high-strung, combative, and is acting out a grand tantrum while Caloy, who has reason to be angry, is carefree, fun, and funny.
As Mika and Caloy go through their trip, they meet other people on their way that bring out the best out of each other and raise the issue of chance. If something good can come out of risk, wouldn’t it still be worth it? No scene is wasted here as the two go through their journey because while they are falling in love, a bigger endgame is coming into play.
The direction, writing, and the editing are marvelous except that the energy level is constantly high. That’s my only gripe. Everything comes off as loud. Everyone is shouting and there’s so much energy.
The film could use more quiet moments. There are only two scenes when the music doesn’t come in and invade the scene. Those scenes are wonderful for their use of silence. Yes, Garcia and Barretto are wonderful together. They are electric. There’s no need to punch it.
But with that said, the movie is wonderful and multi-layered. The first layer is the love story but the deeper layer is hidden in the romantic comedy genre that Antoinette Jadaone presents us. There is the whimsical journey to Mt. Milagros to offer themselves up to aliens, complete with a chant, but this is merely another metaphor for something deeper.
Spoiler warning: the rest of this review contains spoilers. Please stop reading if you haven’t seen the film yet. And if you haven’t seen it yet, watch it. It’s great.
The second layer, right beneath, is that this whimsical journey up Mt. Milagros is really a metaphor for suicide. Death pervades the air in the film. Mika’s motivation for running away is that she cannot move on from her mother’s death while Caloy’s time is running out and he wants to make peace with his estranged father. These are two characters whose lives are marked by death and being ‘abducted by aliens’ is doublespeak for taking one’s life, as seen by the emotional goodbyes that each character makes to their parents.
Each adventure on their way poses a new one question about chance and risk. Do they risk living with this pain that they are going through for the chance that something good will come? That’s the constant question that is being asked by “Love You to the Stars and Back.” Is love worth living for when there is so much sadness surrounding them?
It’s so cleverly hidden in the themes and in the plot. It’s never said but these are two kids who have no intentions of coming back from this trip. It’s so gutsy a move by Jadaone but she aces it. Hidden in all the well-done rom-com tropes is a dark story about teen suicide.
“Love You to the Stars and Back” is a way deeper film than it appears. It’s beautiful and it had the whole audience in tears.