POSSIBLE SPOILERS – This article tackles some plot details of Saving Sally.
This year’s Metro Manila Film Festival has been touted as a major overhaul of the annual film fest as for the first time in years, independent productions dominate the lineup as compared to industry giants and established franchises. While this might result in a decrease in viewership and box office grosses, several people praised this decision to veer away from what some claim to be derivative and formulaic movies, and in turn, display more original material.
One of the buzzed-about entries is Saving Sally, a rare live action/animation hybrid about an aspiring comic book artist, Marty (Enzo Marcos), who falls helplessly in love with his inventor best friend Sally (Rhian Ramos). After weeks (or months, for those who were aware of the movie before its inclusion in the MMFF lineup) of anticipation, the final product wasn’t perfect, but there’s a lot to love about the movie. Here are 6 reasons:
6 Things I Loved About Saving Sally
6. The animation is gorgeous.
One of many animated segments in Saving Sally
The movie’s main selling point is the fact that everything except for the actors and the physical sets are illustrated by five (!!!) animators over several years. Fortunately, the animation in Saving Sally is gorgeous, from the character models of the “monsters”, which are annoying or bad people from Marty’s point of view, to the stunning illustrated backdrop of Manila. The film’s animation is really its soul, as it not only sets the light-heartedness of the story and its characters, but also elevate its use of visual comedy a la Edgar Wright or Wes Anderson.
Instead of relegating it to simple eye-candy, animation is used to both flesh out its characters and build its atmosphere. As a comic book reader myself, I really appreciated the heavy influence of science fiction and superhero in the art describing Marty’s true feelings, while 3D is sometimes used for the futuristic and creative Sally and her strange inventions. And oh my, the detail. From funny signages in the background, to the distinctiveness of each cartoon character, the animation contributed immensely to the world-building of the film. There’s even a gallery of cover photos from the official Saving Sally page that feature the several backgrounds and cityscapes drawn for the movie. Director Avid Liongoren and screenwriter Charlene Sawit-Esguerra may have come up with this crazy idea more than a decade ago, but it’s definitely a step forward into an exciting future of Filipino cinema.
5. The cast gives a heartfelt performance.
Nick (TJ Trinidad), Sally (Rhian Ramos) and Marty (Enzo Marcos)
While the animation helped in molding the characters, I did think some of them were ultimately underwritten. This didn’t cross my mind too much, however, because of the great performances by the cast in bringing them to life. TJ Trinidad plays Nick, Sally’s alpha male boyfriend who Marty envisions as a literal dickhead. Nick may be the stereotypical arrogant jerk, but Trinidad adds surprising depth to the character that explores what’s beneath that buff physique. “Kuya” Bodjie Pascua and Carmen Sanchez are equally charming and hilarious as Marty’s parents, who serve as nice parallels to Marty and Sally. Enzo Marcos encapsulates the awkwardness of Marty as he walks the line between being a caring friend and a hopeless romantic. Marcos gives a tender performance as someone who’s falling in love for the first time – and taking his first step out of his fantasy-filled world.
And it’s surreal seeing Rhian Ramos from her early years, but she definitely delivered in navigating the different dimensions of Sally, from the quirky, practical inventor to the tortured, naïve soul who longs for freedom.
4. There is a good balance between fantasy and reality.
The fact that most of the cast are (envisioned as) monsters definitely shows that this isn’t your everyday Manila, and some of the strange hobbies explored by the characters enhance both the fantasy and comedy factors, but the world of Saving Sally is often grounded in reality, or at least real-life problems.
Marty falls madly in love with Sally in first sight, and has no idea when to make a move even as they become good friends. Sally longs for an exciting and fulfilling life away from her abusive parents. The duo has to face life’s challenges as time begins fleeting and they enter college. And just like most artists, Marty’s main influences are Superman, Batman and X-Men. Even the illustrated background of Manila is recognizable. Despite the world of Marty and Sally being filled with monsters, crazy contraptions, and unusually gorgeous color palettes, people can still relate to their story.
3. The love story is genuine and relatable.
Saving Sally is marketed as “A Very Typical Love Story”, and that’s what we get. But as with recent MMFF hits like Walang Forever and English Only, Please, formula is effective when done right. And the “typical” love story is elevated through the tender way love is approached in the movie.
One of the reasons why the movie is relatable is because of the genuine way love is explored throughout the movie and its characters, since most of the time, they would do what we would do when faced with falling in love. Just like Marty, we’d ask our parents when would be the right time to open up our feelings. Just like Sally, we sometimes view it – to varying levels of success – as a means of escapism. Sometimes we’d end up acting creepy and we would try our best to steer clear of that. But the best ways love is explored in Saving Sally is through the conversations each character has, anchored by the great chemistry between Marcos and Ramos. Sometimes being upfront and honest is all we need.
2. It explores our relationship with time.
Passage of Life, a poignant animated short by De La Salle College of St. Benilde students Renz Vincemark Cruz and Hannah Gayapa, preceded the movie, and I thought this was a nice touch, especially how Saving Sally explores time. A lot of aspects of the movie explores time, such as the fact that the film took twelve long years to complete, or the setting of the movie exploring the relationship between Sally and Marty through their first meeting in high school through their first days in college. We can even say that the whole movie is a timeline of their love story.
What I love about how Saving Sally explores time is how these characters have to face how time is fleeting and what to do with this. They’re not getting any younger. They’re going through what others are eventually going through, such as going through school and thinking about future career opportunities. Most importantly, we see how time changes these characters and molds them into what they decide to become. As time passes by, they have a greater understanding of both the cruelties and blessings of life, and both the thrills and pains love brings to both of them. One character advises, “wait for the right time.” It’s used in a lot of local romantic movies, but it adds a lot more meaning here.
1. It’s a love letter to creativity and art.
Saving Sally not only explores love in a personal way, but it’s one big love letter to creativity, art and the dedication that goes into pursuing it. Marty and Sally are the first heroes in a local movie that I’ve seen that are comic book fans and have valid reasons to why they love them. The moments where we understand Marty’s personal feelings the most is when he grabs pieces of paper and begins drawing. When Sally has a problem in her life, whether it is big or small, she decides to build a strange yet useful contraption to solve it. We see the joy in what creativity brings to them, and in turn, they bring excitement to the viewers.
And nothing’s more evident in showing appreciation for art than the aspects of the movie itself. The fact that a few animators drew each wacky monster, gorgeous background and stunning visual into the movie shows that this project is a labor of love. The quirky cinematography by Odyssey Flores and lovely score by Pablo Pico helped present a “very typical love story” in a new, interesting light. The heavy use of art and its use in building its own world that incorporates fantasy to explain things in reality definitely helps bring to the limelight an under-appreciated profession and medium in the local film industry. Saving Sally’s biggest triumph is the use of one kind of art (cinema) in expressing not only love, but the passion, hard work and sheer joy in creating art. It may not be revolutionary story-wise, but this bold leap in filmmaking and the genuine passion put into the movie breathes new life into a misused art form – Filipino films in general – that’s definitely worth saving.
Check out our other articles about Saving Sally here: