Saving Sally (2016) Review: Living In A Hipster’s Paradise

saving-sally-1After fuck knows how long, the once horrid Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) decided to grow up and stop force-feeding mental diarrhea to audiences. One of its most visually appealing movies was Saving Sally – a cross between live-action filmmaking and 2D animation.

Saving Sally follows the lives of the socially-awkward geek Marty (Enzo Marcos) and the free-spirited, gung-ho Sally (Rhian Ramos) as they grow up and experience the challenges of life and love. After Marty realizes his true romantic feelings for his best friend, he embarks on a personal crusade to save Sally from the troubles of her personal life.

Let’s be real: Saving Sally’s story is far from ground-breaking: It’s another tale of romance starring teenagers. But in the hands of Saving Sally’s crew and filmmakers, what would have been an otherwise forgettable plot is turned into something interesting, to say the least.

Familiar, Yet Unique

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Through Saving Sally’s creative visuals, viewers get to see things through Marty’s artistic eyes that he uses to make sense of a turbulent adolescence and confusing emotions. This goes as far as depicting questionable people as monsters, and seeing romantic rivals as literal dickheads. Just because Saving Sally is an independent production doesn’t mean it’s above a fucking dick joke, and the world is a better place for it.

Like the best of its chosen genre, Saving Sally does a good job of being relatable. Saving Sally knows its target audience, and it doesn’t shy away from catering to their likes and concerns. From  pop culture references to depictions of a student’s everyday worries (Examples include: college, campus crushes, curfews, etc.), Saving Sally isn’t ashamed of speaking for a generation of Millennials.

It’s also easy to see why Saving Sally won’t be everyone’s thing. The movie’s sense of humor WILL fly over some viewers’ heads, making it sound like a self-congratulatory circle jerk for those who understand obscure ‘80s references. But if I were to rag Saving Sally’s hipster sensibilities any further, I might as well shove my combat boots and outdated military cap up my fucking asshole under charges of hypocrisy.

A Questionable Kind Of Love

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Saving Sally is technically an experimental film, and this venture into new waters affected certain parts of its story. In the movie’s enthusiasm to show off its spiffy art, certain scenes and sequences dragged on for too long. Some plot threads, like a glimpse into the mind of Marty’s romantic rival, become unnecessary because they’re unceremoniously dropped after they’ve served their most basic purposes.

But no other part suffers most from this combination of technical issues and a dash of self-indulgence as the final act did, where formerly fleshed-out narratives and character development give way to conveniently contrived resolutions. Despite having the chance to end on a rightfully earned bittersweet note, Saving Sally goes out of its way to enforce saccharine happy endings for the lead characters in overlong epilogue scenes. It’s as if Saving Sally had around five different endings to choose from, but threw them all in a fucking blender instead of committing to one.

Thanks to its nostalgic charm and the aforementioned unique visual style, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Saving Sally has more in common with a lowbrow harem anime with blank slates for protagonists than it does with truly innovative romantic movies like 500 Days Of Summer (2009) or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004).

The thing about Marty as a character is that he’s an empty vessel for audiences to exercise their identity theft skills on by escaping into a power fantasy that glorify their own socially awkward behavior and quirky interests. In one telling scene, Marty is shown to have a wall filled with scratchy portraits of Sally drawn on crumpled papers. While any sane person would see this as a red flag for a stalker in the making, Saving Sally depicts it as charming. I do not make the comparison to a stalker in jest, because this is something Marty actually fucking does at one point in the movie. Questionable writing and double standards like these affect the movie’s already one-sided characterizations, since anyone who’s not on Marty’s side is depicted as an asshole with a side of shithead on top.

A Hipster Out Of Time 

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Saving Sally chills in a dream world where love operates in the same way hentai-themed visual novels do: Love is just a prize, not a mutual commitment. Here, a girl’s rejections make her a bitch who doesn’t know shit, and throwing yourself into the fires of hell for a supposed goddess will guarantee you the girl of your dreams. Call me a cynical killjoy on a soapbox, but 1) I learned about this shit the hard way and 2) I’m trying to be a fucking professional movie critic, so go figure, motherfucker.

The end credits of Saving Sally proudly proclaims that it took more than a decade to create, and this is true. First of all, the whole movie looks like it was really made with the blood, sweat and tears of countless passionate, talented artists. But Saving Sally also feels like a remnant of the times when self-righteous white knights were the standard for men, when the FriendZone was considered to be a fate worse than death, and when an immortal pedophile vampire was a heartthrob.

Saving Sally may be problematic, but it’s still a fuckton better than most mainstream Filipino movies. It should be watched, but as an artifact of a time long gone and not a generational landmark. In a time when Filipino movies are either formulaic commercialized bullshit or pretentious arthouse crap, something as somewhat immature, yet as honest and sincere as Saving Sally is more than worth the price of admission.

To put it all in context, watching Saving Sally is just like finding your favorite but expired brand of candy in the deepest ends of your fridge. It looks and tastes great right before you realize that something’s fucked up when it begins to settle down in your stomach.


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