Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas) is a shy middle-aged man drifting through life.
He never fulfilled his potential after immigrating to Canada from the Philippines. Joshua abandoned a promising dentistry career to work as a janitor in Toronto and take care of his elderly parents Alma (Vangie Alcasid) and Reynaldo (Esteban Comilang).
Joshua prays for a life like his brother Paolo’s (Pablo S.J. Quiogue). Paolo lives life to the fullest, with a wife, child, and career. But despite sharing DNA, the two brothers aren’t cut from the same cloth. Paolo is confident and outgoing, while Joshua is a softspoken homebody who struggles to maintain eye contact.
When Joshua’s mother dies, he quits his job to look after his ailing father, Reynaldo. When Joshua’s cousin Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco) moves in to help take care of his dad, it shakes up his world. Marisol’s comforting presence sparks something inside Joshua, offering him a glimpse at the life he’s always dreamed of.
First off, let me be clear: Islands isn’t a movie for folks with an attention span groomed by TikTok. Writer-director Martin Edralin’s quiet and restrained coming-of-age drama requires you to meet it on its own terms. If you’re down for Islands’ thoughtful and measured rhythms, it’s a powerful and rewarding watch.
It’s what I call a vibe movie. Much like a Yasujirō Ozu film, Islands works best once you sit back, relax, and let its soulful cadences cleanse your soul.
Edralin does an excellent job of using cinematic language to convey Joshua’s feelings of loneliness and despair. The film’s lack of camera movement offers a visual depiction of Joshua’s inertia. And in Edralin’s hands, even quiet moments speak volumes. At times it’s as though Joshua is drowning in silence. You feel the crushing weight of despair bearing down on you in every scene.
The beauty of Islands is how Edralin tells a culturally specific tale that still feels universally relatable. I’m not a single middle-aged man, and I’ve never rebooted my life in another country. But in many ways, Joshua’s story speaks to my own lived experiences.
Joshua is the opposite of a social butterfly. He began social distancing long before COVID popularized the phrase. Being anxious in public spaces is one thing, but Joshua is just as awkward around his own family. It’s ironic how we often feel most uncomfortable around the people we’re closest to. It’s because family has a way of seeing the aspects of our soul we hide from everyone else.
What really stings here is Joshua’s relationship with his brother. Paolo gives Joshua a gag birthday gift that calls him out as a social outcast. Paolo prefers poking fun at Joshua rather than empathizing with his struggles.
Joshua’s social anxiety prevents him from building the life he desires. And his family dynamics only complicate the matter.
Joshua is 50 years old, but this is still a coming-of-age movie. Even though it seems life passed him by, his best years still lay ahead. He’s just incapable of realizing it.
Finding the love of your life is difficult at any age. But once you reach 50, it feels like the door has closed. Islands offers an empowering reminder that it’s never too late to pursue your bliss.
As a kid, I dreamed of being a writer, but life had other plans. And as the years went by, I was certain that life had slammed the door on my lifelong dream. I didn’t start writing about movies until I was in my thirties, and it felt like other writers were so far ahead of me I would never catch up. Chasing my dream seemed hopeless.
But here’s the thing: that decision panned out in ways I never envisioned. Committing to writing was a long and winding road, but it paid off in opportunities and friendships I couldn’t have imagined.
It took a life-altering event for Joshua to step outside his comfort zone. But for most of us, all we have to do is commit to change. Your promised land may sit beyond the horizon, but it’s still there waiting for you. Pursuing your best life begins by taking one step forward. The journey may take longer than expected, but if you persist, you’ll get there in time.
Just remember… slow motion is better than no motion.