The Art of Ligaw is 500 Days of Summer for Pick-Up Artists
Let’s get two things clear:
First, 500 Days of Summer isn’t a movie that’s meant to be romanticized. It’s an immature, egocentric view of love, wherein Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) completely ignores everything Summer (Zooey Deschanel) wants out of their relationship, focusing instead on the fantasies that play out in his head. It’s a portrait of toxic entitlement, not of romance.
Second, pick-up artists aren’t meant to be idolized. Their relative success at getting women into bed is hinged on emotionally manipulative strategies, a gross disregard for requests to leave them alone, and a broken view of dating as a game meant to be won. It’s equal parts an egocentric approach to sex and an unintentional implication of low self-esteem. After all, why resort to “tricks” if you had any confidence in your ability to be an appealing human being?
It goes without saying, then, that based on this review’s title, The Art of Ligaw is a film for egocentric men who don’t respect women, but want to feel better about it.
The Art of Ligaw follows the story of Jake (Epy Quizon), a 40-something serial dater who’s grown tired of playing the game. It’s his skill at getting the ladies into bed, however, that has him flown to Davao to give call center agents a seminar on persuasiveness (go figure). It’s there that he meets Carisse (KZ Tandingan), an uptight, shielded 20-something who wants nothing to do with him, so of course, he has to court her.
Making “ligaw” is something new to Jake; in Manila, it’s all about instant hook-ups at bars and online. He’s disillusioned by the emptiness it brings him, and so he figures that the drawn-out process of a formal courtship would give his life meaning again. Never mind that Carisse quite literally says—to his face, no less—that he disgusts her; he’s drawn to her as much as he’s drawn to durian.
There’s no irony in that statement. The movie takes great lengths to compare Carisse to the fruit, saying that despite the hard, spiky shell and revolting stench of its flesh, some people can’t get enough of it. To Jake, an avid fan of durian, Carisse is another one of his acquired tastes, even though he literally had less than 24 hours to get to know her before deciding he wanted to court her.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being interested in someone right off the bat. Many great romances start that way. In the case of The Art of Ligaw, however, it’s intensely problematic. Jake’s main motivation for wanting to start courtship in the first place isn’t interest in the other person; it’s to shake off the existential ennui he’s suffering. He pursues Carisse with complete disregard for her dislike of him, and it’s hard to sympathize with someone whose sense of entitlement leads to acts of emotional harassment.
Case in point: Even after Carisse tells Jake she wants nothing to do with him, he surprises her at her packed office with flowers and a three-piece a capella group serenading her the very next day. The persistence is played off by the film to be romantic, but Carisse herself is made intensely uncomfortable. This isn’t cute; it’s creepy.
It’s also straight out of the pick-up artist playbook. Mystery, the subject of Neil Strauss’ expose on pick-up culture The Game, teaches that women are more susceptible to seduction when they’re in an emotional state, regardless of whether the emotion triggered is positive or negative. Jake got shot down by a non-responsive Carisse, and so he follows up by embarrassing her in front of her co-workers.
The film tries—and fails—to veil the fact that Jake is a pick-up artist, or at least subscribes to the philosophy. His seminar on persuasion is name-checked by Carisse as “The Art of Seduction.” He negs her on their first night out, saying she isn’t the sexiest or prettiest woman he’s met—but is certainly the most “interesting.” His persistence with her is driven both by self-gain and a belief that her initial resistance isn’t meant to be taken too seriously.
What makes The Art of Ligaw difficult to recommend is the fact that none of Jake’s behavior is criticized because the entire film is told from his perspective (much like 500 Days of Summer). Jake serves as both protagonist and narrator, and he is a very biased narrator. He isn’t chauvinistic; he’s a bad boy who wants to reform. He isn’t wilfully ignorant of what Carisse wants; he’s just so very in love with her. He doesn’t break one of the terms of their courtship because he was getting bored; he just had a slip-up.
It’s dangerous to accept things in the way the movie presents them because it romanticizes a broken view of how men should be approaching women. In fact, the film’s thesis—that one should get lost in love so that they can find themselves—is self-serving at its core. People aren’t supposed to view romantic pursuits as stepping stones to personal growth.
And it’s a shame that Tandingan chose this movie to be her feature-length film debut, because her natural comedic timing is wonderful. It’s a commendable first effort, even though she could benefit from adding more nuance to quieter moments. Her potential as an actor is one of the few real reasons to give The Art of Ligaw a chance, even if this reviewer would personally advise against it.
Quizon also delivers in his performance, despite the problematic role. He plays Jake with such sincerity that one might believe that the “romantic pick-up artist” trope might actually exist in real life, even though the concept itself is self-contradictory.
Much of the film’s shortcomings fall on the shoulders of writer-director Jourdan Sebastian, who was clearly passionate about this story, but chose the wrong way to tell it.
In both substance and form, The Art of Ligaw is dated. Its views on romance may have flown in a pre-#MeToo society, when majority of viewers were still blind to the flaws inherent in films like 500 Days of Summer, and in the philosophies of pick-up artistry. Directorial choices such as random fast-forward bursts in the middle of a narrative scene would’ve been at home in early- to mid-2000s television, but not in modern local indie films.
It should be stated, however, that this is also Sebastian’s first full-length film; if the director is serious about his craft, he’ll learn from the mistakes The Art of Ligaw makes. As it stands, it’s difficult to justify why one might even want to watch this film. It seems like the sort that’s repulsive to people with a modern understanding of romantic relationships, or encouraging of viewers who are stuck somewhere between Jersey Shore and Barney from How I Met Your Mother’s early days.
This reviewer’s opinions lie firmly on the prior perspective. On the other end, there are people like that one audience member at the preview who, at a moment where Jake (correctly) refuses a kiss from an emotionally vulnerable Carisse, said, “Smooooooooth.”
Perhaps films like The Art of Ligaw need to come with a caveat: “Do not emulate.”
There is, after all, a space for cautionary tales in cinema.
“The Art of Ligaw” opens on November 13.