The remake of "Mara Clara" was my guilty pleasure. I know the story became so ridiculous but the cast really won me over so I stayed all the way to end. The girls who played Mara and Clara, Kathryn Bernardo and Julia Montes, were really good with their roles and they helped make the adaptation of the classic 90s soap leave a big impact on Philippine pop culture as well. Star Cinema cashed in with the success of the soap by producing a movie to serve as a star vehicle for the young actresses and the result is a good acting piece for both girls although the movie itself is at best mediocre.
“Way Back Home” tells the story of sisters Jessica (Montes) and Joanna (Bernardo) who got separated when they were very young during a family vacation. The family never found Joanna until twelve years after when during a swimming competition their mother (Agot Isidro) recognized her long-lost daughter Joanna as one of the competitors. After being separated for so long the sisters struggle to adjust with their new lives.
The premise is interesting but the screenplay didn’t fully explore it enough and just went to the melodramatic route too quickly. Montes elevated a character that is sloppily written, Jessica has a lot of dramatic moments in the movie but I felt like her angst was not developed properly. It’s normal to feel uneasy (or in Filipino vernacular “mailang”) to someone you were close to once but got separated for so long that you are practically strangers already however you don’t act like a bitch to that person immediately. I think a cold treatment from Jessica would have been a more natural starting point of their reunion. With that said, Montes did a good job on relaying the pent-up emotions her character has been keeping all these years. It’s a showy character but Montes managed to keep it grounded and relatable.
On the other hand, Bernardo is effective with the low key but moving scenes of Joanna. Bernardo’s eyes are very expressive and were used effectively with a number of scenes like her confusion of whether to stay with the family she grew up with or to go with her real family, her frustration over her sister and the scene where she was recounting an early memory she had with her sister Jessica was poignant and touching
The supporting characters were not used that well like what’s the point of having an older brother (Aaron Villena) when the yaya had more lines than him. Agot Isidro had her moments but her character’s issues were not fleshed out. The romantic interests (Sam Concepcion and Enrique Gil) were just on the sidelines so they were not distractions because the movie after all is a family drama.
I have to give kudos to the musical score because it was lovely and gave the movie an emotional resonance. I admit I almost teared up during the flashbacks when the sisters got separated and that aforementioned scene where Joanna recalled an early memory she shared with her sister, the entrance of the flashback and music score was spot on that made the scene quite moving.
Script nuisances aside, “Way Back Home” is a solid light family drama plus it’s rare to have a local mainstream movie these days that isn’t about a romance, horror or comedy so "Way Back Home" is a welcome change of pace. 7 / 10