A love-hate relationship
with Kabir Bhatia's latest

At first glance, this remake of an acclaimed Malaysian film might seem like a star-studded retread aiming solely for box office gold that's as generic as its moniker, but Love, despite its flaws, proves to be an emotional reflection on affairs of the heart.

Five tales revolving around five couples of various ages, social and economic groups are told amid the hustle and bustle of Jakarta life. The film jumps back and forth between these separate narrative threads, with the main characters occasionally crossing each other's paths at certain locations in the city.

Tere (Luna Maya) is a successful writer who takes an interest in Awin (Darius Sinathria), a shy employee at a bookstore where Tere's latest book is sold. Alas, Awin's introverted tendencies lead to a few misunderstandings that serve as stumbling blocks in their courtship. Meanwhile, across town, Miranda (Wulan Guritno) and Gilang (Surya Saputra) are a middle- to upper-class married couple with an autistic daughter and an impending storm threatening to shatter their marital bliss.

The weakest of the lot, the two storylines suffer from unengaging plots and mediocre acting. Although Darius gives a sensitive portrayal of his character, the three other performances barely lift themselves above the realm of sinetron (soap opera), particularly that of Luna, who aims too hard for teen-lit girly cuteness.

Speaking of a bland brand of acting, it's something that is all too apparent in the next storyline. Restu (Irwansyah) eyes Dinda (Laudya Cynthia Bella) across a packed TransJakarta bus and falls head over heels, prompting him to woo her tirelessly despite being rejected every time he asks her to be his girlfriend. Little does he know that she's hiding the very reason why she thinks they can't be together.

Stiff turns from the leads notwithstanding, this segment, which almost entirely takes place within the curiously uncongested Busway transportation system actually starts off quite charmingly. The scene in which Restu gets commuters to each hand a yellow rose to Dinda as they step off the bus, for example, perfectly encapsulates the sweet folly of youthful romance.

However, after a climactic revelation involving a rather shocking gesture that elicited puzzled gasps from the audience, the story goes downhill into melodramatic overkill.

The final two yarns are simply put, a wonder to behold. Iin (Acha Septriasa), fresh off the bus from Sukabumi, arrives in Jakarta looking for her AWOL boyfriend. Fate brings her to a printing shop run by Rama (Fauzi Baadila), whose own life echoes the same empty yearnings as Iin's.

In the same alleyway as Rama's shop there's Nugroho (Sophan Sophiaan), a primary school teacher who goes to his local watch repair shop to find that the place has been turned into an eatery run by a friendly widow, Lestari (Widyawati). Sparks fly after a conversation between the two and it doesn't take Lestari long to realize something's not quite right with her new acquaintance.

It's refreshing to see senior thespian Sophan venturing outside his usual stern patriarchal roles with his touching portrayal of vulnerability, but it's his real-life wife Widyawati who shines as the kindhearted Lestari. Though her body language is sometimes a tad theatrical, her character's generosity of spirit genuinely glows from her, as in the pivotal scene in which she comes to a terrified Nugroho's rescue at a busy street junction and urges him to seek solace in her familiar face.

But the standout performance of the film has to be Acha Septriasa's -- from the Sundanese accent to the subtle gesticulations. Her country bumpkin could've been played crasser for more laughs or weepier for more sympathy, but her performance is so fluid and organic, it's hard to believe this is the same grating actress who shamelessly turned on the waterworks in Love is Cinta.

The adequate, occasionally luminous screenplay marks a return to form for scriptwriter Titien Wattimena, after penning the embarrassing Bukan Bintang Biasa (Not Your Average Star) and the ho-hum Butterfly. The Iin-Rama and Nugroho-Lestari storylines are so observantly written and well-developed they could stand on their own as individual films.

The use of popular local ballad Sempurna (Perfect) as a musical theme to bookend the pic is a fitting one as well, with Gita Gutawa's falsetto adding an ethereal dimension.

However, the biggest misstep of the film lies in attempting a final twist in its closing scene. The honestly heartwarming buildup toward its conclusion is somewhat dampened by this contrived dose of unnecessary saccharine.

Director Kabir Bhatia, who was also behind its Malaysian predecessor, does a credible job overall in helming this one. Co-directed by scriptwriter Titien, the film boasts of high production values that are realistic and peppered with appropriate visual metaphors throughout. It's also beautifully shot, thanks to cinematographer Eddy Michael Santoso and art director Rico Marpaung.

In spite of its flaws, Love still gave this jaded viewer a warm fuzzy feeling all over as the credits rolled. Perhaps, as one character's voiceover proclaims: love is all about taking the happy and the sad, the good with the bad.

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