Enchong Dee and Janine Gutierrez are our prom dreams come true

Confetti and balloons line the floor as Janine Gutierrez and Enchong Dee stand together for the ultimate awkward prom pictures. Janine adjusts her corsage and Enchong’s hands hover at her waist, both of them flashing endearingly nervous smiles. The disco lights are flashing and the retro pop playlist is in full swin, serving up She & Him one moment and Maggie Rogers the next.

Enchong summarizes it best when he observes, “Parang Lady Bird.”

Both actors liken their movie Elise, which came out earlier this month, to classic films, and even mashups. Enchong says it’s “Juno meets Forrest Gump.” It reminded Janine of her favorite movie, Almost Famous. But Elise, she notes, isn’t so easy to pin down if you haven’t seen it.

Directed and co-written by Joel Ferrer, and based on his own experiences, Elise tells a story of a first love lost and found. It’s framed from the point of view of Enchong’s character Bert, remembering his childhood sweetheart Elise, played by Janine, with whom he has crossed paths again after several years.

Critics and audiences fell in love with Elise — Philbert Dy called it a “masterpiece,” and Oggs Cruz deemed it a “lovely film” with elements that “beautifully collide.” It turns out that good writing and good acting make all the difference: Enchong and Janine were lauded for their performances, seen as experimental and career-defining steps away from (and above) their previous work.

After giving life to the character of Bert, Enchong hopes for romantic comedies to be more daring and to contribute to more important conversations.
On Enchong: Sweater from H&M Studio.

For Enchong, it was a matter of drawing from what he’s personally been through. “Everyone goes through their first love, and everyone remembers how it felt,” he says. “Mine was very puppy love-ish. ‘Yung tipong, ‘Kukuhanan kita ng drink,’ usap ng 30 minutes, it’s a big deal. That’s something that would make your entire day during that time. Only you can understand that particular feeling.”

Working with someone with whom he’s already established a friendship also made things easier. “Janine is such a sweet girl,” he gushes. “It really wasn’t hard to find something that you can fall in love with. I just had to transpose it to something I could use in the movie.”

 

“It’s important not to forget why you started or what really drove you to the choices that you’ve made in your life. Any time that you feel lost, that’s what you can go back to, to put you back on track,” Janine says

 

“You can’t fake chemistry,” Janine agrees. “I’m just lucky that Enchong is really someone that I like, I care about, I enjoy working with.” They were also on the same page about what they thought the movie could be. “I guess if you feel that it’s real between the two of you,” she muses, “then it will show in the scene.”

Resonance was also a factor for her. Elise, who is sometimes unable see what’s right in front of her, tends to be “kalat,” Janine explains with a laugh, “and all over the place.” It’s something that can become self-sabotaging. “I’ve been there, na parang you’re trying to find something or hold on to something to the point that it’s not good for you anymore,” she adds. “So I feel like everybody can find a little bit of themselves in the movie.” The way it’s told — a memory being recounted, a story spoken aloud — not only gives Elise its edge, but also makes it more emotionally gripping. “It’s important not to forget why you started or what really drove you to the choices that you’ve made in your life,” Janine says. “Any time that you feel lost, that’s what you can go back to, to put you back on track.”

Janine first fell in love with the script of Elise. She admits that it raised the standards for what she wants to do as an actor.
On Janine: Blazer and dress both from H&M Studio and earrings from Souvenir

Enchong’s take is more nostalgic and starry-eyed: it’s a way to remind us that human connections shouldn’t have to be a luxury. Recalling stories he’s been told of people driving from one end of Metro Manila to another just to see a person, he says, “Now, you can just FaceTime someone, and I feel like that reduces the romance.” Not too long ago, 20 years in the past, there were grand gestures and tangible love languages for the people we valued. “We made an effort,” Enchong says. “We went out of our ways. But when people say (romance) is dead, it’s not dead. It’s just in a different form.”

 

“We have to give people more options. For us artists, we also have a responsibility to accept projects that aren’t the same thing over and over again,” says Enchong

 

Elise was pulled out of theaters much too early — it was only on its second day when its box office numbers began to dwindle. The response from supporters was swift and fervent though, launching a campaign to #SaveElise. While audiences have a hand in deciding what gets made by buying tickets and showing up, Enchong points out that the filmmakers, production companies and actors also have a responsibility to foster a healthier film industry. “They can’t keep doing the same stuff,” he says. “We have to give people more options. For us artists, we also have a responsibility to accept projects that aren’t the same thing over and over again.”

Enchong hopes that romantic comedies will become more daring in the future, in the sense that they’d have more to say and contribute to important conversations. “It would be nicer if our rom-coms could enlighten people,” he says. “A rom-com, but if you dig deeper, it’s about not voting the same old politicians into office. A rom-com, but it’s about fixing the traffic of Metro Manila.”

According to Janine, these days, seeing a movie isn’t such a fuss-free activity. There’s money to think about, and traffic, and so many titles to choose from. Why go out when you can just go on Netflix? “It’s hard to distinguish what’s worth it,” she says. “Everybody has favorites, but I feel that it’s good to evolve your comfort zone once in a while and see something that you wouldn’t normally see.” She adds there’s just so much out there, and you don’t know what you might actually like. “My point is, Elise is worth it,” she adds with a laugh. Elise was helped by a great script; in the beginning, all Janine wanted was for the film itself to be just as good. “When I saw that the final film was worth seeing, that’s when I realized, ‘Oh, I want people to see this,’” she recalls. “And when I saw the responses, it was like people really felt what we were trying to show and felt as passionate about the movie, if not more. That was the biggest surprise and reward.”

Despite being pulled out of theaters much too early, Elise left a mark on critics and moviegoers alike — making it an arguable underdog film.
On Enchong: Suit jacket by Vania Romoff, button-down shirt and trousers from Uniqlo. On Janine: Gown by Vania Romoff and earrings from Souvenir.

What makes an arguable underdog like Elise really worth it — and why it’s left quite a mark despite a short cinema run — is its authenticity. “It’s closer to everyone’s reality,” Enchong explains. “We feel sad, but not (always) in a grand way. We feel in love, but we won’t (shout it from) a mountain. We feel grief, but we (get past it).”

 

“There was nothing fake about it, and I guess people can tell the difference when a story is something real.”

 

“Nothing in the film was manufactured to create hype, or to create kilig,” Janine chimes in. “There was nothing fake about it, and I guess people can tell the difference when a story is something real. And it was funny! It’s not just a love story between two people, but it’s about life and loss and love for the people in your life.”

Both co-stars admit that worked on the film has made an impact on the future decisions they will make in terms of their careers and passions. “More than anything, it raised the standards of what I want to do as an actor,” says Janine. “Sometimes you feel like you kind of have really limited options for the work that you accept, so when Elise came to me, the one thing I realized was you shouldn’t settle. If there’s something you want to do or a project you want to be a part of, you have to make a conscious effort to put yourself out there.”

“I’ve done so many films, but they haven’t gotten these kinds of reviews and comments from people,” Enchong says. “It feels great.” It motivated him to value quality and to keep going with material he felt strongly about — to think more toward the future. “I feel like I would be able to say no to things that I usually say yes to after Elise. It just fired up something within me that was pacified a long time ago.”

Photos by KOJI ARBOLEDA
Styled by MJ BENITEZ and NEAL P. CORPUS
Makeup by KAYE MISAJON
Hair by MARK BAQUIRAN
Nails by Raquel Apostol of I Do Nails
Produced by MAINE MANALANSAN and TIN SARTORIO
Sittings by JAM PASCUAL, GABY GLORIA, GIAN NICDAO, and BEA AMADOR
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