“We are not what other people say we are. We are who we know ourselves to be, and we are what we love. That’s OK.”-Laverne Cox
While Pinoy BL became a vibrant reality in the past year, ABS-CBN Films was at the frontline with its breezy college romance “Hello Stranger”. Despite facing tough competition with the other “Newcomer on the Block” (Gameboys The Series), Hello Stranger managed to create a niche audience of its own. Starring the insanely handsome Tony Labrusca and totally delectable J C Alcantara in titular roles, this drama depicted the vestiges of the “Coming Out Phase”. The hesitancy, interdependence and lucid declarations of love were handled coherently. Xavier and Mico became a
legendary couple, simply because of their effervescent chemistry and refreshing take on reality.
So imagine my surprise, when “Hello Stranger The Movie” was released as a Valentine’s Delight! While the single hearts bemoaned the absence of their significant better halves, this movie puts you through an emotional wringer. The attention to details, tactile cinematography, brilliant script are just the tip of the iceberg! As you dig deeper, this rather scrumptious delight unravels to reveal true metaphors that showcase the morbid tragedies faced by the LGBTQ community on a daily basis. I was left devastated while trying to reconcile my base emotions with the teachings that this movie imparts with a brutal yet utter honesty!
Hello Stranger Movie sequel picks from where the drama series ended. The “Young Padawans” (Mico came with his gang, Kookai, Seph and Junjun) are shown attending a writing camp “Paniti Camp” at a beach resort. Xavier is attending the same camp with his girlfriend Crystal and a few other friends. Xavier and Mico seem to be at odds and its obvious that they had a bad breakup. As luck would have, Xavier and Mico are allocated the same room. Being roommates, Mico and Xavier are left with no option but to act as friends for the entire span of the camp. But being in close proximity, stirs their feelings for each other and avoidance is no longer blissful!
Xavier’s Self Development As A Character
I have forever been in love with Xavier de Guzman and it has nothing to do with Tony Labrusca’s macho image or his handsome looks. Xavier is a very intriguing character and as such, watching him develop into a more mature person was truly phenomenal. There are noticeable differences that actually heighten the anticipation of how this character will evolve and accept the harsh realities of life. While Xavier was majorly depicted as a Playboy in the first half of the drama series, his honest gestures to earn Mico’s trust did melt my heart. The later half portrayed the ensuing confusion and finally acceptance of his own feelings. So, witnessing a sadder version of this highly energetic character made me curious!
It is prudent to appreciate Tony’s acting talents, because he embodies Xavier’s hesitancy, confusion, fears so well that it is impossible to separate the two. While there is no confusion on his part about his feelings for Mico, the morbid reality of being stuck in an “Unwanted” relationship is a major roadblock. Xavier is responsible, so much so that he is willing to sacrifice his love for someone’s wellbeing. This character is so well written and depicted, that his sufferings will leave you wounded. Xavier’s selfless attitude and helpless demeanor make it an increasingly impossible task to hate him and the only thing you could possibly wish for, is his reconciliation with Mico.
Mico’s True Understanding of Love
There are very few characters in Pinoy BL that instantly tug at your heartstrings with their innocence and Mico is one of them. While the drama version was a mildly annoying book nerd, whose only concern was gaining good grades; falling in love surely changed the course of his life. Xavier changed him in more ways than possible and as such their bitter breakup puts Mico through an emotional wringer. JC Alcantara might be a newcomer and yet his depiction of Mico is exemplary. It’s refreshing and you can’t help but fall in love with this adorable character.
JC’s acting skills have improved in spades and they are clearly visible in his scenes with Tony where their characters have to act normal despite the emotional upheaval they are experiencing. Their romance takes a dive into the unknown as the audiences are left wondering about the possible reasons for their breakup. Being in close proximity with the person you loved and lost is entirely painful and JC embodies this pain. Stuck in a situation without reprieve, Mico’s emotions are forever on the surface and you instantly feel connected to his inner turmoil. I enjoyed watching Mico’s growth from a self obsessed person to a more loving individual.
Xavier and Mico’s Romance & Reconciliation
“Hello Stranger The Movie” is brilliantly executed and the film’s true strength lies in his hidden meanings. The movie attempts to highlight the issues faced by the LGBTQ community and tries to provide viable solutions for the same. While the preceding drama series was directed by Petersen Vargas, the movie is helmed by Dwein Baltazar instead. I was truly skeptical about this sudden change, but after watching the movie, I realized that my worries were unfounded. The change in direction doesn’t affect the pacing or dampen the excitement. In fact Dwein Baltazar lends her own personal touch to this winter romance that echoes throughout the movie.
While Xavier tries to reconcile with his own sexuality, Mico learns that being patient is the most critical point in a relationship. Both these characters depict different issues that replicate common LGBTQ issues. Xavier’s confusion about his sexual orientation and labels are realistic and viable. As such, the movie imparts the important message of self realization and acceptance. Labels are insignificant and loving yourself is of utmost importance. Mico on the other hand has spent his entire life planning things in advance. He likes to categorize things into major boxes and hides inside a shell when things don’t work out his way. So watching Mico morph into a more selfless character, who is ready to accept Xavier along with his flaws was immensely satisfying.
The Intriguing Supporting Characters
The real charm of this popular franchise lies in its vivid depiction of relationships. It focuses not just on the romance but also the strong friendship between the “Young Padawans”. Mico is truly blessed to have true friends who love and care about him. It could be in the moments where Seph and Kookai warn him against Xavier or where they are always protectively huddled around him, ready to shoulder his burden.
Apart from this, Seph and Kookai’s unlikely romance is one of the most interesting interludes in this movie. Kookai (Vivoree Esclito) and Seph (Patrick Quiroz) have a beautiful chemistry and mutual understanding. Although this relationship goes through a major upheaval due to Kookai’s hesitancy and Seph’s insecurities, they manage to reconcile.
Another intriguing aspect of this movie was the easy portrayal of the “Coming of Age” trope. Instead of depicting the girlfriend negatively, Hello Stranger portrayed Crystal in a daringly positive light. Since Crystal’s overtly emotional decisions ended up destroying Xavier and Mico’s newly blossoming romance, the movie choose to give her a second chance at redemption. Instead of sticking to her choices vehemently and denying Xavier the much required “Freedom”, Crystal chooses to correct her mistakes. Loving someone selflessly and accepting their sexuality is a truly phenomenal experience!
Overall, this movie is delightfully flavored romance with the right amount of sweetness and savory that somehow balance the act. The movie is wrapped up in a satisfactory manner and if there is room for future sequels, I’m sure we would enjoy those as well. Loving someone is an act of bravery, but loving someone of the same sex requires even more courage. Familial acceptance plays an important role as well and as such, this movie has managed to touch on all the important milestones in this journey. If you are a huge fan of Mico and Xavier’s love story, you will definitely watch this movie. It is worth your money and your time!
Rating- 4 out of 5