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By Arnel Ramos

“The Story of Us” instantly reminds one of its obvious inspiration, the beautiful Sana Maulit Muli where the fates of its two leads, lovers Lea Salonga (as Agnes) and Aga Muhlach (as Jerry), are reversed once they try life in a foreign land.

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Only, the movie is understandably tighter and more riveting than the soap. In Sana Maulit Muli, there is also more attention to characterization. Lea’s character starts out as a clingy girlfriend who blooms once she sets foot in the US. Kim Chiu’s character in the soap is portrayed as somewhat “matiisin” while she was still an island girl, but even when she became more confident and surer of herself once she arrived in America, the characterization lacks certain details which would have made viewers realize that there is an internal change that is happening to her.

Anything out of our comfort zone changes us beyond the surface. Instead, the soap delves more on the love angle between Chiu and constant screen partner Xian Lim, peppering air time with “kilig” scenes. In the process, we are offered little more than dialogue that may sound good to hear but ultimately hackneyed. One would have appreciated observations about life away from the country of your birth. Diaspora and the personal would have been a lethal combination. This is what movies like the aforementioned “Sana Maulit Muli,” “Milan,” and “Merika” were able to meld in a manner that is moving.

There are, to be fair, some attempts at adding more layers and voices into the narrative but they are tentative and rather sketchy, like the subplot about the character of US-based former actor Leandro Muñoz and his ex-wife played by Beth Tamayo.

The lead performances also leave much to be desired. Kim Chiu is tolerable but there are scenes in New York where she is supposed to be “bagong gising” but perfectly coiffed and made-up. She is also compromised by that perpetually tiny girl voice that doesn’t register well when she has to denote raging emotions. Compared to Kim, Xian Lim is tall and well-built but his gestures and facial reactions are always too big even in moments that do not call for it.

But then again, the series is blessed with the presence of the still-alluring Zsazsa Padilla as Kim’s estranged mom. She can be stern and motherly in turns and is always affecting. There is no greater wonder than the sight of an actress who fully understands her character.

The last time we tuned in, The Story of Us now has Tin (Kim Chiu) married to a young salon mogul, their fortunes rapidly dwindling while Macoy (Xian Lim) is back in the Philippines where he finally gets to make good financially. The proceedings feel like they are being rushed, all the more missing opportunities to be more introspective and thus more observant.

After all, lovers are all but part of the bigger picture which is life and its many vagaries. One would appreciate if The Story of Us could begin to see that personal dramas are best experienced when they are thrust against similar personal dramas, in effect forming a gallery of portraits that resemble fragments of experiences.

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