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Saving Sally
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by Jay Seaver

"Ten years in the making, still rough at spots, but worth it."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: If the filmmakers were anything close to the age of the cast when they started making "Saving Sally", then this thing is even more of an accomplishment than it appears to be; the actors playing Marty and Sally are close enough to actual teenagers that it's noticeable when they came back for reshoots later on in a 10-year filmmaking process. It's astonishingly ambitious for some young Filipino filmmakers, impressive in its accomplishment even if its makers sometimes tip their hats as to how raw they were when they started.

Why did it take so long to make? Because there's a ton of very impressive animation in it. Marty and Sally live in a whimsical city filled with monsters, and sometimes things will go fully animated with what is often a simpler, more friendly cartooning style for their flights of fantasy. It's great-looking, though, and often cleverly implemented - the buildings in the bulk of the city are simple enough, with colors just bright and solid enough to be a bit heightened without feeling unreal, that it feels like a place actual people live until something specific can really pop while still fitting in. There's a ton of creative creature design, and the 2D look that never clashes with the live-action people around it, and the cartoon extensions of the practical inventions the title character builds match, even when she's wearing them. It's as smooth and creative an effort to blend animation and live-action as I can remember since Roger Rabbit.

Is it occasionally a bit clunky in other areas? Yeah. The story, in particular, is pretty basic: Marty (Enzo Marcos) is a comic-art-loving nerd who is regularly picked on until Sally (Rhian Ramos) intervenes one day and the two become fast friends, with Marty falling for her pretty hard. Sally's foster parents have a lot of rules, though - she has to build a walkie-talkie to communicate with Marty because they won't let her have a phone, and most of the time lets him know she's able to leave the house by hanging specific socks on the clothesline that he can see with his telescope. And then there are the bruises. Plus, while he's still trying to figure out how to deal with all that, she finds an older boyfriend (TJ Trinidad) and uses Marty as their go-between when she's grounded.

It's simple stuff, but it's not obnoxiously so; the filmmakers have a good handle on when Marty is being a jerk about the situation, for instance, and are canny enough in presenting him and the torch he carries that he can be hurt without Sally being wrong to like someone else, even if that someone else does wind up being a bad guy. Director Avid Liongoren and co-writers Charlene Sawit-Esguerra and Carlo Ledesma are frequently smart enough to mind the advice on storytelling that Marty gets in his budding career in comics, avoiding simple villains and letting an image explain as often as words.

The acting is, similarly, kind of wobbly at times, but it becomes sweet after a while; it reinforces the idea of the film being a labor of love made by folks like the creative, good-natured people on-screen. Rhian Ramos has worked steadily since making this, but she's a pleasure to watch from the start, making the shifts from her general excitement to moments of quiet or a sharp response mean something. Enzo Marcos isn't quite so steady as Marty; there's an awkward cadence to his English that isn't just a shy kid intimidated by his pretty best friend, like he's working to emote and not over-act. It works for the character, and he and Ramos play well against each other - heck, he and TJ Trinidad aren't bad together, even if Trinidad is playing a pretty standard lunkhead bro character - though there's a bit of a drop-off once you get past them.

Despite the way the script and acting are kind of rough, "Saving Sally" is still a genuine delight to watch; Liongoren and his team are almost insanely committed to making every corner of Marty's and Sally's world a delight, from using monsters to cover for not being able to shoot a busy street scene to how Sally's machines remind us in every frame that Marty loves her as much for being brilliant and inventive as pretty. They could have pulled back, but didn't, and the result celebrates its heroes' creativity and inventiveness on every frame, making it much more important than how they may stumble trying to conventionally express themselves at times.

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originally posted: 07/02/17 23:12:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

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