‘Ex With Benefits’ Review: Skin-deep maturity
The biggest problem of Gino Santos’ Ex With Benefits is that it is all about what's on the surface and never about the meat. The film is essentially about a successful sports doctor (a surprisingly monotonous Derek Ramsay) who suddenly gets the opportunity to win back his ex (Coleen Garcia) when the latter, now a medical representative, must work with him to try and get an endorsement for her company’s newest drug.
The story’s predictable, which is not unexpected since it is based on another Wattpad novel. What separates Santos’ adaptation from the rest is that it aspires to tackle a repetitive romance at a more mature level. Sadly, maturity, as defined by Star Cinema’s standards, is nothing more than the baring of a bit of flesh and a handful of innuendos in its overwrought dialogues.
In Ex With Benefits, sex is ornamental and love is fast. The film’s world view is completely conservative, despite the fact that it hides its old-fashioned perspective with characters sleeping together in a frequency that is quite unheard of in mainstream romances.
It is very easy to see through the disguise, though. The film is still adamantly a fantasy, one that revolves around a man who believes himself to be modern but still aspires for a woman of virginal traits and a woman who deems herself progressive but falls into a well of self-pity when society judges her.
Perhaps the disappointment may be a little bit unfair. However, Gino Santos, the same filmmaker behind the relentless depictions of wayward youth in The Animals (2012) and #Y (2014), has never been about appearances. His films work because of his familiarity with the subject matter, a familiarity that allows him to depict conflicted characters with equal amounts of sympathy and disgust.
Santos seems to be the most apt person to shape the world of Ex With Benefits, considering that the morality of the central characters in the film exist within the gray area that Santos’ films have explored with ease and comfort.
In a way, Santos succeeds, in the sense that the characters he has been hired to flesh out act like modern lovers who treat sex not as a thing to be mum or be shy about but as part and parcel of a healthy relationship.
He is able to mold an exaggeratedly corrupt system in the business of selling pharmaceutical products, where something as delicate as a love story can manage to breathe and be relevant.
However, all these elements are decorative at best. Santos completely misses the point of the exercise, which is to graduate the formula beyond what has always been done, which is to grasp firmly on unrealistic expectations of women kowtowing to men’s ideals of what is a desirable woman. Ex With Benefits thinks of itself as a wild animal in a zoo of domesticated pets. In reality, it is as tame as the rest.
Flimsy love story
Even more frustrating is how Ex With Benefits fails as a traditional romance. The film lingers too long on the fact that Ramsay and Garcia’s characters cannot get over their past relationship. It indulges in showing the two characters mouthing stories about how how the other person is the one that got away, how their lives have changed when they broke it off, and how they cannot find true love with other people.
The emotions, however, are inexplicable. The love story, told through a flashback where Ramsay and Garcia’s characters meet, flirt, and fall in love in med school, is gaudy but hollow.
Santos skirts around giving the characters a real connection to hinge their future melancholy on with the boilerplate MTV-like montages of the characters spending time together. Their breakup is as flimsy.
In other words, there is not enough motivation for either Ramsay or Garcia’s characters to be in a state of emotional stupor, especially 10 years after the breakup. Santos is begging for too much of a stretch of the imagination without providing his audience with love to fervently root for. When the two finally reunite in a scene that is lovely at first but empty in hindsight, the relief is fleeting and too late.
Medley of misfires
To complicate matters, it is only at this point that the film reveals its more interesting dilemmas, which is the effect of Garcia’s illicit activities on their newly redeemed romance. Again, Santos skirts around the essentials and hurries towards a conclusion that is all too convenient but grossly mechanical.
Ex With Benefits is a medley of misfires.
Its insistence on a Wattpad novel that is nothing more than a reiteration of romantic fantasies only in different forms and settings, its marrying Santos with a material that only forces him to lose the sincerity that shapes his films, its decision to tell the romance from the perspective of a man who does not do anything but mope instead of the woman whose suffering is more dramatic, its reverence on boring norms amidst its more sleazy shell, all these are questionable decisions that can only lead to a film whose effects only manage to be skindeep. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios