Aljur and Janine in dire need of chemistry in “Once Again”

By Arnel Ramos

One is simply at a loss over how the colegiala-looking Gutierrez fell for the brawny-but-little else Abrenica.

For a romantic drama to work, it is prerequisite that there should be not just strong but palpable, exquisite, sparkling chemistry between the two leads. They should prompt viewers to cheer for them, cry and laugh with them, even daydream to be in their places up there on screen.

That was, to illustrate a point, how Richard Gomez and Dawn Zulueta made us feel as ill-fated lovers Gabriel and Carmina in 1991’s Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit. Decades later, that final scene of Richard and Dawn running after each other in sheer abandon in the hills remains imprinted in the memory. That is the magic of chemistry.

And that is also what is lacking between Aljur Abrenica and Janine Gutierrez as star-crossed lovers in GMA 7’s Once Again, heavily bruited to be a tale of reincarnation and enduring love.

In the series, Aljur and Janine first met in the province, the plot following a rich girl-meets-poor boy thread. Tragedy ensued and the two were reincarnated in the present time. If the pilot episode last May 2 is to be the gauge, it is hard to imagine how the show can remedy this basic flaw – the lack of chemistry between Abrenica and Gutierrez who were first teamed in the lukewarmly-received morning show Dangwa.

Is it because he has abs to die for? Or is it because, well, you know, love defies explanation? But a drama on love and its indefinable mystery demands that. A hint at the very least on why someone fell for another person. What is it that one party gives to the other one? A sense of liberty? Or because polar opposites attract?

It doesn’t help that the main contravida is played by a newbie named Phytos Ramirez to whom acting is all about looking “gigil” hundred percent of the time.

Perhaps the best two local excursions into reincarnation as drama were done by two film masters, Gumising Ka, Maruja by Brocka and Karma by Danny Zialcita. Maruja had komiks origins but Brocka translated it with aplomb while Karma simply bore Zialcita’s stamp – that is crackling dialogue, delicious performances all around. Also, both had Style with a capital S.

Perhaps it isn’t too late for the people behind Once Again to rethink the soap’s approach so that the series could grow legs and wouldn’t die – pun not intended… a natural death.

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