NYAFF 2017 Review:  Saving Sally (Phillippines 2016)

I really enjoyed Saving Sally, the passion project of director Avid Liongoren and screenwriter Charlene Sawit.  The film is bursting with creativity, the leads are sweet and likable, and the film has a lovely “Blues Clues meets Liquid Television” aesthetic with a charming blend of live action and animation.  So it kind of kills me to harsh Saving Sally’s buzz, but I have some major issues with the wish fulfillment elements of the plot (kind of like I thoroughly enjoy The Incredibles, but the more I think about the underlying philosophy, the more unhappy I get).

Saving Sally took years to make, developed from a short story by Sawit into a film that encountered numerous production delays before eventually making its way to the screen. The film is about Marty (Enzo Marcos), a nerdy aspiring comic book artist who falls in with, and falls in love with, Sally (Rhian Ramos), the dream girl next door.  Sally is that girl you only see in movies and commercials, the one Gone Girl mocks.  She’s impossibly perfect, smart, funny, beautiful, and digs all of Marty’s geeky pursuits.  But Marty finds himself in the nice guy friend zone, forced to endure Sally’s dating of a loutish older guy, and her downplaying of her abusive family situation.

And here’s where the problem arises.  Saving Sally perpetuates the classic nerd fantasy that if a “nice guy” hangs around the pretty girl long enough, he can save her from her problems and she’ll reciprocate his feelings, that if he hangs around long enough making puppy dog eyes, he can earn his way out of the friend zone.  That narrative reads a lot differently to me now as an adult then it would have as a teenager, and it’s not hard for me to see the flipside – Marty as a creeper, as the entitled, toxic nice guy who’s been so roundly roasted in the last couple of years.  And every time the narrative threatens to upend these time-honored tropes – the boyfriend is really not so bad, Marty meets another girl – the plot circles back in predictable directions.

None of this should stop audiences from enjoying the film. The film is an absolute charmer, and it integrates a mixture of English and Tagalog just as easily as it integrates animated backgrounds and characters into the story, and the creative team clearly means well.  I just wish I could overlook the message.

2 1/2 out of 4 stars (Good). Saving Sally is playing as part of the New York Asian Film Festival on July 1.

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