‘Grooming?’: Reactions to Julia Barretto and Aga Muhlach’s romance film pairing

January 9, 2024 - 5:34 PM
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Julia Barretto and Aga Muhlach
Julia Barretto and Aga Muhlach in the film poster for VIVA Films' "Ikaw Pa Rin Ang Pilipiin Ko" as uploaded on VIVA's Facebook on Jan. 7, 2024 (VIVAFilms/Facebook)

“Grooming” feels?

This was some of the comments of Filipinos who watched the teaser and saw the poster for VIVA Films‘ upcoming romance film starring Julia Barretto and Aga Muhlach.

The Facebook page of the film producer on Sunday unveiled the poster for “Ikaw Pa Rin Ang Pipiliin Ko,” a movie written and directed by Denise O’Hara.

The movie was formerly titled “Forgetting Canseco.”

The poster features a smitten Julia sitting beside a bearded Aga, who is smiling in her direction.

“Two hearts connected by music, will they beat as one? The season of love begins!” VIVA Films said in its caption.

The film is a May-December romance between Julia, who plays the role of a chorister, and Aga, who portrays a musical conductor.

The poster immediately generated buzz after its reveal, with some Pinoys frowning at what they thought would be an “inappropriate” onscreen pairing.

“Grooming style,” a user on the X (formerly Twitter) platform commented.

“Sobra layo ng age gap. Uso na ang grooming as a norm sa cinema?” another Pinoy asked.

In relationships, “grooming” is when an older person, usually an adult, manipulates a younger individual or a minor into building trust with them before the latter is sexually abused.

“What’s up with movies pairing young women with guys who could pass as their daughters [or] granddaughters??” another online user commented on the film poster.

“Pasado pa sa akin ‘yung last team-up niya with Bea Alonzo. This one is giving me those Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’ feels which I find creepy than literary appealing nung binasa ko. Viva can do better than this,” another Pinoy wrote, referring to a novel in which a middle-aged professor becomes obsessed with a 12-year-old.

Another online user noted that Aga used to be paired with one of Julia’s aunts — “Optimum Star” Claudine Barretto.

“Pamangkin ni Claudine si Julia. Omg. Cringe,” the online user commented with a flushed face emoji.

Aga and Claudine played lovers in the 2002 romance film “Kailangan Kita.”

Aga is ten years older than Claudine in real life. He is also 28 years older than Julia, the elder actress’ niece.

While several online users are criticizing the pairing, an online user-lawyer, stressed that a “huge age gap is not grooming.”

“Grooming has a legal definition. You just can’t call everything as grooming. Kaya ang labnaw-labnaw ng usapan natin sa grooming eh,” the online user wrote on X, attaching the legal definition of grooming from Republic Act 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009.

Aga and Julia

Aga is no stranger to working with younger women onscreen.

Some of the younger actresses he has been paired with, apart from Claudine, are Bea Alonzo, Kristine Hermosa, Anne Curtis and Angel Locsin.

Aga previously said that such pairings are “normal.”

“When this movie was offered to me, sabi ni Julia, ‘Wow.’ As an actor, it is a blessing to be able to work and experience an actress like Julia at this point and time in my life,” he said to ABS-CBN News in July 2023.

“There’s nothing but gratitude on my part. It’s crazy. I’m nervous also because we will be making a love story. Masaya. This is a movie, so we’ll make it work. Kaya naman,” Aga added.

“I will play my age and she will play her age in the story. We’ll do a nice movie and we’ll make sure the audience will get entertained,” the actor continued.

Aga added that “there is no age in love” in reality.

Julia, on the other hand, admitted that she was initially uncertain about how she would address the older actor before.

However, Julia said that it was a “dream project” to work with Aga, citing that she would be working with “the original heartthrob and the legend.”

It was previously reported that the milieu of the film will be a chorale who performs the timeless songs of George Canseco.

Aga plays conductor Michael Capistrano, who was recently separated and relocated to Baguio to start his life all over again.

Denise said that the movie is a tribute to George, one of the country’s most popular songwriters who wrote for Basil Valdez, Sharon Cuneta, Dulce, Kuh Ledesma, Rico J. Puno and Zsa Zsa Padilla, among others.