REVIEW: ‘Dearly Beloved,’ a restrained ‘blended family’ drama

What if you meet your true love after marriage? When you realize, with shock, that your perfect match is not your spouse?

Loosely inspired by Ishmael Bernal’s 1982 Relasyon, Dearly Beloved examines this slice of reality without judgment. In real life, after all, some people marry for the wrong reasons or at the wrong time, and end up falling hopelessly in love with another person long after they have signed their marriage contracts.

Shel (Cristine Reyes) finds herself in this situation in Marla Ancheta’s visually luscious restrained drama. We first find Shel already separated from husband Keith (Felix Roco) and is now cohabiting with Deo (Baron Geisler) in a cute house in Subic. They have a charming child, Gelo (TG Daylusan), who looks nothing like them (but you are forced to accept this).

Deo is also amicably separated from his well-to-do wife Rhoan (Phoebe Walker) and also gets to see his two kids with her.

All is good. It’s a perfectly working blended family.

 But the arrival of Beth (Katrina Dovey), a nice event organizer, triggers in Shel a series of unshakeable insecurities about her future with Deo.

Dearly Beloved tries to achieve that sheen and sophisticated glamor of a Florida-based television series — complete with rustling palm trees and a yacht club (Subic Yacht Club represent!). It employs a muted color palette, bokeh effect, depth of field, and is set in an affluent side of Subic to achieve what you glean as an American vibe.

The camera enjoys simmering in Reyes’ face, particularly when she’s singing as a freelance bar singer. Donning a long, wavy wig, the actress sings beautifully.

The movie is in no rush, and that is fine. But there is a strong feeling that the script has been rushed; the dialogue is sometimes unusual, disjointed, or forced.

You could tell that the actors are improvising small talk, or fillers. Their favorite line is “Gelo, you’re so naughty!” when the kid is actually behaved. There is also a sense that the actors are grappling for their lines, as if unprepared for the scene, or only handed the script right on the set.

The premise has rich potential for drama, and Ancheta cleverly decided to avoid histrionics and go for a subdued approach. However, the conflicts are weak.

If the script wanted Shel to come off as irrationally insecure, then it has to present strongly perceived threats that are understandable from a jealous point of view. Here, the threats are practically non-existent.

The viewer understands Shel’s deep-seated insecurities as she and Deo are still legally married to their spouses. But these are not justified, therefore reducing Shel’s character as someone so bored that she has to manufacture problems, or to self-sabotage.

The film fails to construct tension, believable arguments and strong circumstances to plant seeds of doubt and emotional agony. It is also unfortunate that Reyes and Geisler are devoid of chemistry.

The upside is that Shel and Deo are members of the working class — he, a hotel staff, and she, a bar singer. This adds a layer of stress to their dreams and ambitions as a couple.

Because Ancheta seems to have given her actors agency to take their time as they try to remember their lines and deliver them in the most emotionally controlled fashion, the drama becomes overstretched. The two-hour runtime could have been trimmed.

The final act, though, has a redeeming factor. This is where Ancheta (who directed the hit Netflix drama Doll House) finally ties her themes together and movingly uses a compassionate lens to portray a small family freed from traditional traps but bound by legal chains.

The movie does not promote infidelity, but merely paints this certain subculture — and it does so from a woman’s perspective, from a legal and societal perspective, and a little from the kids’ perspective as well.

With all its flaws, Dearly Beloved is still a watchable fare. It lacks emotional impact, but is visually gorgeous and provokes discussion.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Opens 30 March in cinemas