When headlines first broke out that Janine Gutierrez and Lovi Poe were starring in a rom-com together—not as best friends or rivals in a love triangle—the internet went abuzz. With two of show biz’s biggest leading ladies joining forces as romantic interests, what else do you expect? The title of the series alone was enough to titillate audiences: Sleep With Me.
Janine portrays a wheelchair-user named Harry, who serves as the endearing voice to listeners of her after hours radio show. From 12 m.n. to 4 a.m. every day, she hands out romantic advice, holds games, and plays tunes to whoever may be stuck counting sheep. From the first few minutes of the series, Janine plays to her strengths, utilizing her olive-hued eyes and charming grin to simultaneously attract Lovi and us viewers. While her interpretation of a DJ may sound a bit robotic to some ears, it’s trumped by the sheer warmth that just naturally radiates off of her. Her presence on screen can be likened to the soothing quality a piping hot bowl of beef mami has when enjoyed on an unofficial first date.
On the other hand, we meet Lovi as Luna, a writer whose body chemistry prevents her from sleeping during the night, and being awake during the day (technically speaking, she’s diagnosed with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, so, no, it’s not just insomnia.) She’s an amalgamation of musing alternative music, instant cup noodles, and loose black t-shirts. Even when separated from the character, Lovi already posseses an alluring gaze and a spine-tingling vocal fry that can captivate anyone. While Luna isn’t one to announce her presence by stomping into the room, Lovi maximizes these traits of hers to make the character an alpha in her own way. Juxtaposing this is the adorable awkwardness she exhibits when she interacts with Harry, which makes things all the more enjoyable to watch.
Many would categorize a project of this nature as a Girls’ Love series, or GL for short. Two girls meet, get to know each other, and dabble into a romance, what else could it be called, right? The series’ writer and director, Samantha Lee, however, contests that Sleep With Me shouldn’t automatically be housed under the GL umbrella. She points out that out of the small pool of sapphic-oriented productions we have locally, majority are created from the perspective of a cis-hetero man. The male gaze, as they say. The very fact that Sleep With Me was crafted from the perspective of someone who actually lived through the experiences of the characters was enough to differentiate it from past similar narratives. Aside from that, in order to normalize stories like these, why is there a need to label them as such? Why does it have to be a Girls’ Love story and not just a love story?
Yes, Janine and Lovi are both playing gay women who are both disabled in some way. As individuals who don’t identify the same way as their characters, or have any similar physical conditions, one could imagine how much of a challenge it was for them to become Harry and Luna. Above all though, the two stars profess that playing lesbians was one of the least difficult parts of the project. Sure, they might’ve shared a kiss or maybe even had a love scene, but that wasn’t the point of the show. Both seasoned actresses were just playing two people—nevermind their sexualities—who fall in love, a task both of them have multitudes of experience doing. It just so happened that they were both girls.
This nonchalance to one’s sexual orientation is an evident element to the show’s story-telling. Harry would openly talk about her “girl problems” with her brother Kai, and in turn, he would discuss his “boy problems” with her. At one point, Luna ran into an ex-boyfriend, but later on, asked a fellow female out on a date. Speaking from personal experience as a queer person myself, this is what I would call a perfect world, one where the gender of the person you get smitten over isn’t such a big deal.
What’s perhaps a “big deal” in the world of Sleep With Me is a much-needed conversation on accessibility. Tasks like getting out of bed or maneuvering through a wet floor take extra precaution for people like Harry. She puts out a disclaimer that she’s “not as fragile as she looks,” words she uttered when an apologetic Luna bumped into her on their first meeting. And speaking of Luna, Lovi’s character isn’t granted as much sympathy she needs as a person with her condition. She’s scolded for parking in a PWD slot, and is hastily labeled as lazy just because she can’t report to work on a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule.
As individuals who find themselves in marginalized sectors, the two leads are left to live on the “other” side of the world. The hours before the sun rises up seems to be the only realm where the two can thrive and find a sense of comfort. It’s like they don’t have access to the world many people without disabilities are used to.
With these in mind, direk Sam set out to grant the show as much accessibility as possible through its release. Despite cinema being her first love (her first two projects, Baka Bukas and Billie & Emma were released as full-length films), Sleep With Me was meant to be streamed on iWantTFC. The reason? It’s for free, and anyone can see it anytime, anywhere as long as they have an internet connection. It’s not enough that the story was told, rather, it’s vital that it’s heard in waves.
This was why the Audience Choice Award for Best Episodic they bagged at the 2022 Outfest Film Festival mattered more to direk than any other accolade, mainly because it meant more people were clamoring for the narrative they worked so hard to put out.
As she describes it, this “Trojan Horse of a rom-com” aims to be a parable about the “others” in society, masked under the guise of a straight-to-the-point, heart-fluttering TV series. Pinoys have an addiction to shows or movies under this schmaltzy genre, and with the sheer gravitas both Lovi and Janine possess, it leaves viewers no choice but to click play. That, at least, is the game plan.
I’ve only seen a brief 3-episode cut of Sleep With Me (you can say I only slept with them halfway through the night) so it would be remiss to make any final conclusions. But what I can claim is that direk Sam’s closing words during the media conference couldn’t be any truer: “Kahit ano’ng SOGIE mo, kikiligin kayo.”
Sleep With Me is streaming for free on iWantTFC starting on August 15, 2022. Watch its full trailer below:
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