Though an unexpected departure from his slick crime-action thrillers, Filipino director Erik Matti’s newest film A Girl And A Guy opens – in true Matti fashion – with a bang. Nude couples getting hot and heavy and Tarantino-esque gore kick off the first eight minutes of the film, all before the lead pair blow up their relationships with longtime partners. It’s a hell of a way to fire up expectant audiences who have to sit through the movie’s 126-minute runtime.
At its best, A Girl And A Guy offers a blunt but sympathetic view of what it’s like to be a young adult figuring out major life decisions (literal cock-ups and all). At its worst, this adult bedtime story buries its takeaways under a winding and at times muddled multi-character storyline.
The film’s titular “guy” Raf (played by Rob Gomez) foreshadows that last point with his pronouncement “Life is less of a race, it’s more of a maze.” It’s one of few moments of clarity he gets later down the line because in the beginning, Raf is directionless and unreliable. He ambles through a marketing job, unclear of what he’s doing or what he wants – the very reasons he got dumped. The “girl” – a stranger he meets about halfway through the feature – Fiona (Alexa Miro), is a production assistant dreaming of making it big as a filmmaker. But her ambition smothers her fellow film-grad boyfriend, so he bails.
Separately in shambles at the end of their failed relationships, they set off to self-soothe the way each of them know how: Raf by hooking up with a string of female co-workers, starting with his boss Mela (Candice Ramos). Propelled by Ramos’ magnetic onscreen charm, their extended flings are so fiery that they make you briefly wonder why the film isn’t about them instead. Meanwhile, Fiona goes on beach trips and Tinder dates where her flirtations are variously sizzling, interesting, shocking, then sour.
Matti nixes the meet-cute route because when “girl” and “guy” finally meet, they write each other off, as they look for something more than romance and a good screw. When they’re given another chance at a do-over, COVID happens, and so coupling takes another detour. Months or possibly years pass and new partners come into play, at which point you realise maybe Raf and Fiona won’t get their happily-ever-afters. Matti has insisted that A Girl And A Guy isn’t a rom-com and it’s clearer towards the end of the movie why it isn’t, and what it’s really about: never settle, follow your dreams.
Those takeaways may seem basic and hackneyed, but Matti directs us to these epiphanies in a stylish and happily chaotic manner. He makes those tired tenets feel decidedly brand-new as they’re revealed, but he takes his time getting there. Sub plots where multiple characters enter and are conveniently chucked out could be far shorter. Voice-over narration and cutesy VFX cards which profile and introduce a character could be nixed.
Little hiccups aside, A Girl And A Guy’s unassuming cast of young actors impressively deliver. Both Miro and Gomez – along with virtually every supporting character, especially Ramos, who steals every scene she’s in – flaunt both emotional and physical dexterity. Matti judiciously shoots sex scenes with an eye for raw sizzle and humour (yes, humour) regardless of location: up the stairs, inside a car, public bathroom, office cubicle, etc. Full frontals are a thing not just with women but men too, and topics of power and consent are given the hat tip.
For better or worse, Matti’s consistently been a director who makes the kind of films people talk about. A Girl And A Guy doesn’t stack up to his finest work, but it’ll definitely make for some spirited post-watch convos.
- Director: Erik Matti
- Starring: Alexa Miro, Rob Gomez, Pau Benitez, Candice Ramos
- Release date: Out now on Upstream until Dec 25