June 15, 2024

Keys to the Heart 2023 Movie Review

Keys to the Heart
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Keys to the Heart 2023 Movie Review

For movies like “Keys to the Heart,” with a story so well-worn, the key to mining enjoyment is to either tune into the difference in the storytelling or notice any quirks within the well-worn plot itself that could elevate this movie beyond its surface-level predictability. Because on paper, “Keys to the Heart” sounds like a checkbox ticking mark of sentimental tropes stacked one upon the other – a distant, wayward older son, a single mother with a strained relationship, an autistic younger son with a special ability (here it is classical music), the older son having to stay with his mother and younger son because of plot-related reasons and thus start helping out.

The mother has a debilitating sickness due to which she engineers a situation where the two brothers bond without the presence of their mother. The younger son’s ability attracts a prodigy in the field he is proficient in, so he is entered into a competition. And the son impresses in the competition after initially being disqualified. Obviously, the movie ends with the brothers being reunited.

If the above paragraphs sound like I am dissecting the movie to shreds because of my inherent dislike of this movie, that is not the case. The above paragraphs show how well-worn this template is in this genre, with tropes being hit at the exact moment to elicit an emotion from an audience. As much as critical appraisal would sound cynical on evaluation of a film like this, at the end of the day, movies like these rely on tropes being executed very well, and even if subversions or updating of these tropes sometimes become essential, the core elements need to remain unchanged.

This 2023 edition of “Keys to the Heart” is a Filipino remake of the 2018 Korean movie of the same name, and what stands out first is fairly obvious. Dolly De Leon, of “Triangle of Sadness” fame, plays the role of the frazzled but loving mother to Jayjay (Elijah Canlas), her younger son suffering from autism. She manages to evoke motherly love along with a genuine pragmatism in character, due to which she brings the appropriate amount of dimension to a mostly thinly written character. Elijah Canlas as Jayjay, on the other hand, is sublime. Playing the role of a “special” child, he manages to imbibe Jayjay with little quirks and character moments that help Jayjay come off as a lovable sort of individual with a big heart instead of an annoying hindrance if acted with the wrong tonality.

As a result, the moments between him and his elder brother Joma (Zanjoe Marudo) are filled with flashes of humor, however weak they are. Those humorous elements all land because of the conviction with which Canlas’ character plays Jayjay. His outburst at not being able to have his phone with him while playing the piano in the competition, or his uncertainty at the unfamiliar crowds looking at him from the stage and hitting the back of his head in frustration, is very relatable. Also relatable is his immediate change in mood when he sees his mother being led in a wheelchair by his elder brother and his brother’s best friend, which gives him the confidence to play “Piano Concerto No. 1” by Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The third emotional quotient that the movie tries to bring in is through the character of Joma, and here is where the movie sort of stumbles. It’s not that Zanjoe Marudo as Joma is inherently bad. Still, his attempt to portray the character as aloof and distant doesn’t bring any interesting dimension to the protagonist, whom we should root for. Neither does the movie allow for moments of quietness or moments where the connection between his brother and himself becomes more apparent. The movie during those moments is in service of the tropes it is trying to hit, rather than letting the scenes breathe and the characters be explored with depth by the actors.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the enjoyable bits are when Marudo taps into Joma’s goofball, lovable loser vibe and how he repeats Manny Pacquiao’s well-known catchphrase as a confidence booster. The most memorable scenes within the film are the conversations between Sylvia and Joma, once when they’re slowly opening up while indulging in drunken dancing and the other in the third act in a hospital room. Those moments help to ground these emotional connections and give them weight when the screenplay and the film fail to build and depict the backstory uniquely or satisfactorily.

The weirder and baffling elements range from eyebrow-raising to almost threatening to pull you off the film. Sylvia being taught by Apple (Alethea Pinzon) to search for members of her family via Facebook is a strange premise. An interesting coincidence is Joma being in an accident and later waking up to find being gifted a stack of money by rich socialite and piano prodigy Annette, who coincidentally is the same prodigy Jayjay looks up to and has a crush on.

The interactions between Joma and Annette felt like they were leading to something more substantial but ultimately went nowhere. While Jayjay’s re-admission into the competition is so predictable and yet so blatantly against the norms, one is forced to wonder whether merit truly won the day in this situation or whether the heart of a rich man softened to see his daughter play her favorite instrument once more. Plot contrivance trumping thematic catharsis is one of those frustrating elements that movies get bogged down by in the course of a happy ending.

But the biggest crime of “Keys of the Heart” is its inability to move the viewer emotionally beyond a few moments of light humor or well-acted melodrama. As a result, the movie becomes another Netflix staple, one that would be played on a rainy afternoon or in moments of sadness. It would give a momentary amount of pleasure until the end of the 102 minutes of runtime, after which it would be swiftly forgotten. Movies like these, too, have a place on the shelf or the server of a streaming service. The key is to manage your expectations to the bare minimum.

Keys to the Heart 2023 Movie Review