Saving Sally is the little movie that could

In retrospect, 2006 seems like a world away: before smartphones and Facebook reigned supreme, there was Friendster and there was Multiply, and sending MMS (multimedia messages) took up much time and fortune.

Yet even back then, it was clear that director Avid Liongoren and writer Charlene Sawit-Esguerra had a vision, one that they would tirelessly pursue for 10 years, and one they would cling to even when all hope of seeing their live-action-slash-animation feature film come alive seemed bleak. Saving Sally went through years of development hell, mounted by a skeletal team of 5 animators in director Avid’s home in Teacher’s Village, Quezon City.

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I’d first come across this fledgling movie on the now-defunct Multiply website, its trailer having gone viral long before the word “trending” would become a fixture in the millennial vocabulary. For Saving Sally to finally see the light of day after a decade is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying — for who can deal with 10 years’ worth of pressure crammed into a 2-hour film? Yet as Saving Sally proves, it’s the little movie that could.

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Rhian Ramos as Sally and Enzo Marcos as Marty

The story revolves around two high school seniors: Marty (played by Enzo Marcos), a young and talented illustrator, is in love with his best friend Sally (Rhian Ramos), an eccentric inventor-slash-comic book geek-slash artist. While dealing with the decision to become a famous comic book artist versus going to art school, Marty finds himself forced to confront his feelings towards Sally, who as it turns out, has her own monsters in her life: her abusive, overbearing parents, and her boyfriend, Nick (who, literally and figuratively, turns into a dick head).

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From the get-go, it’s clear that the visuals are the movie’s tour de force. There’s nothing big about Saving Sally’s story, yet it takes the formulaic guy-in-love-with-his-best-friend plot device and narrates it in a larger-than-life sequence with smooth, cutting-edge animation largely inspired from comic book art and contemporary geek culture.

For a movie that was essentially a decade in the making, Saving Sally does a fantastic job of not making it seem dated, with its endearing, youthful animation that can invoke nostalgia even among the most cynical of viewers. The film’s overlying art direction unsurprisingly draws comparison to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World which Saving Sally actually predates (the story was written in 2002, and the film work began in 2005, while the Scott Pilgrim comics were released in 2004 — the clear difference between the two being a massive studio budget). Yet if any comparison is to be made at all, Saving Sally packs a lot more heart than Scott Pilgrim, laced with Filipino sensibilities and a lighthearted, earnest story that hits home. The Manila-eque backdrop provides for vibrant scenery, with Pinoy komiks references embedded throughout the film.

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Bodjie Pascua as Marty’s dad bonds with his son, one of the funniest scenes in the film.

Rhian shines as the smart, headstrong Sally and provides just the right charm to an already lighthearted movie, but it’s Enzo’s riveting performance as the shy, artistic Marty that proves he makes for a compelling lead. A strong supporting cast also makes Saving Sally an even bigger pleasure to watch — Carme Sanchez and Bodjie Pascua provide many of the film’s humorous moments, coming into their own distinct characters as Marty’s overenthusiastic mom, and Marty’s socially awkward dad, respectively. Likewise, Peejo Pilar as the eccentric comic book publisher steals the show in his scenes with affable comedic timing.

Perhaps a small weakness in the film lies in Sally’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl tendencies. While majority of their characters render themselves as likable, Sally in particular treads into MPDG territory, a trope she shares in common with Scott Pilgrim’s Ramona Flowers — a strong, unique character who suddenly becomes a hipster damsel in distress. Blame it on the timeframe, where sometime 10 years ago quirky female characters who leave it to a male hero to “define” them or, heck, even “save” them would have been endearing, but would send today’s feminists’ heads reeling.

That being said, Saving Sally does well in painting real human conditions against a colorful, make-believe backdrop — in Marty’s eyes, corrupt, abusive people are monsters and they come alive in the fantasy town they live in, and quickly so, the animation turns into a creative metaphor that sends a clear message on domestic abuse.

Overall, Rocketsheep Studios managed to churn out a dreamy spectacle of a film, with sincere characters and a fun, mesmerizing story. Much may have changed since 2006, but Saving Sally is a heroic effort that was worth the long wait.

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

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