Saving Sally is one of the most ambitious attempts at commercial filmmaking from the Philippines to date, and probably one of the best in terms of this level of popular ambition. It follows Marty (Enzo Marcos), an aspiring comic book artist who can see monsters materialising in people he perceives negatively, but never really bothered with as long as they never bothered him. His visions serve as his unique barometer of who is good and evil, and are transferred to the comic book he’s working on. The film is mostly told through Marty’s singular point of view, hence its fusion of animation and live-action sequences. In this respect, Saving Sally literally shows the thoughts of one person coming alive.
Marty also introduces the film as being about Sally (Rhian Ramos), who he considers to be the center of the universe. Sally’s troubled life is foregrounded by her identity as a mad scientist. Often, her experiments are a means of finding a way out of the world and her current life. Marty, while being aware of Sally’s predicaments, continues obsessing over her from a distance.
Avid Liongoren’s film plays on the conflict between the old and the new. Between Sally’s despotic parents and Marty’s idealism of freedom. Between Toto the Publisher’s idea of his comic book as war and mayhem and Marty’s revision of this idea and equate it to love. Between Sally’s jock boyfriend Nick’s old alpha male, and Marty as the new beta, competing for Sally’s affection. However, with this world being a fantasy made out of Marty’s mind, the conflicts seem to be solved easily and everything just falls into place. Marty doesn’t really have any real struggle to begin with. Even his supposed rescue of Sally is just a matter of him being in the right place at the right time, when Sally’s home is actually on the brink of falling, a tragedy waiting to happen.
This conflict of the old and the new also can also be seen on the solutions for Sally’s problems, but this time, in reverse. Marty fantasizes being the classic fairytale savior while Sally is the resourceful new woman who. Sally has already found a way out through her secret project – a rocket ship which will take her off the planet and away from all. But as the story is in Marty’s mind, her fate is the one which works for him.
It seems like Marty’s character comes from a period of nerd-validation in popular culture, which can be traced back to the 1990s. The film still carries touchstones of an older generation through its nostalgia for the comic book boom, but will nonetheless appeal to a younger crowd with its millennial attitude. Another element that’s unique to Saving Sally is that it has allowed the nerd to play out his desire. It’s like watching a happier version of Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2009). Imagine the Sex Bob-Omb playing a concert to an adoring audience and Ramona Flowers falling in love with Scott without him defeating her evil Ex-es. It could even be said that it’s an act of pure fantasy that comes close in comparison with male-centric Japanese anime romantic comedies in that it has no antagonists and little conflict. It only needs a harem for Marty for the formula to be completed. However, the film holds back on this, evidencing its catholic guilt even in Marty’s fantasies, probably, the only thing that makes Saving Sally especially “Filipino” aside from other visual references.
The frequently playful graphics and tone make it all light enough for its narrative to be easily digested, but also stops the audience from investing additional imagination. The movie will do the imagining for you, so just enjoy it as is.
Saving Sally is showing as part of the New York Asian Film Festival on Saturday July 1 at the Walter Reade Theater at 12:45pm. Tickets can be purchased from the Film Society of Lincoln Center website.