Beauty and the Bestie (2014) by Wenn Deramas

Metro Manila Film Fest was created to support Filipinos’ love for film. Sure, it has become a venue for movie producers and major network television show producers to take money out of middle-class and lower-class’ salary for the day. Sure, there are extremely terrible movie released this year that could affect pop culture or in general culture. But these bad films that we watch will also help us in distinguishing it with the good ones. They teach us some kind of truth especially if they resonate with our kababayans.

Beauty and the Bestie is your typical Wenn Deramas and Vice Ganda collaboration: over-the-top and unbelievable plots, unjustified plot (Valerie Concepcion’s character running away from her children) repetitive punchlines (‘ay, ganyan siya oh’ which is funny BTW), references in real life (Nadine Lustre’s character referencing her scandalous fight with James Reid during the premiere – not that cool), and some sort of self-awareness that I kind of like (scenes like ‘dapat maganda tayo sa last scene’ [non-verbatim]). I don’t know why but the formulaic comedies that embed family and action scenes remind me of old classic comedies like FPJ’s or Dolphy’s.

The plot to impersonate a beauty pageant representative of a terrorist-driven country to protect the secret that the real beauty pageant representative who is also the daughter of that said terrorist-driven country has been kidnapped by a third party no one really cares about is well, a huge stretch. But just like in any Vice Ganda movies, we have to do a lot of suspension of disbelief in order to really enjoy the movie.

What I like about the film is that it knows it’s all about hitting the jackpot money. It knows that it is not the film that will change the world. It knows that people will see it for the entertainment value, not really for anything more. And there’s nothing really wrong with that. I mean, what are gore films for anyway? But what we have to be keen about is that people should know that. The problem today is that people take what is given to them just because it came from somewhere they know nothing about (the difficult and rude world of showbiz, ehem, Cathy Garcia Molina) and feel powerless to. We should always be vigilant.

One of the things that have bothered me is the sexual undertones. I have no problems with it really but for a family movie, the sexual tension between Vice Ganda and the naïve character of Coco Martin is kind of strong with Vice Ganda and her two other friends portraying the stereotypical man-hungry gay best friends.

Their performances are good to be honest only because roles were readily written for them and the characters are close to the roles they tend to always portray and there’s not much leeway for an actor to navigate a role in this fast-paced movie. But I want to see Vice Ganda audition for a difficult role one day, one that isn’t written for her. Vice Ganda and also other veteran MMFF actors/actresses keep on recycling their roles—which is terrible because it means there is no progress in their creative pursuits, damaging the opportunity to be diverse and creative. They remain stagnant, unexcited by progress.

The thing that Vice Ganda’s roles or her real-life comedic persona have been damaging is the image of the bakla as the typical manyak, trying to take advantage of any moment just to get physical with Coco Martin, and even if you consider that she’s only in love with him—in the context of Vice Ganda and ‘250 isang kiss,’ it’s a monstrous act for the gay community (which means the entire LGBT). Add her two gay best friends with one who is like Vice Ganda’s character a manyak (that last scene near the end ‘uubusin kita!’ and aggressively goes for the neck) and the other the subject of jokes that refer to being ugly. They are really funny but they also got me worried that people will accept this as representative of the gay community which is not. Though you can argue that this is what lower middle-class gay community may look like in one particular angle, but these kind of tropes, these kind of monstrous acts that affect the gay community have been going on for years. Where are the successful, accepted and beautiful baklas whose physical appearance or gender is not the subject of jokes? The Philippines, sure, may not be ready for these kinds of things but we, those who are reading this and those who aren’t homophobic, should not create worse environments that stereotypes the gay community into ugly monsters and say something even in a single status, a tweet or a blog entry.

On the other hand, there seemed to work with every Vice Ganda character (and this probably the only compliment I will give to the film which I really do not want to massacre any further because the elitists disguised as ‘critics’ are doing their jobs well anyway. I would only like to offer a perspective). Especially in this one: the gay character as mother-nurturer. Kidding aside, Vice Ganda’s character has been called ‘nae-nae’ by her nephews, because she became a mother figure who worries about her nephews’ well-being immensely. The term nae-nae is a smart play on ‘nanay’ and homage to the famous dance move which is very important to pop culture which is equal to a #winner. What I like about this film is the transgender visibility. Vice Ganda’s insistence that she is a woman and should be referred to as ‘ate’ is a wonderful step to trans visibility. If people reading this are still confused, Vice Ganda is female because that’s what she identifies with so do not call her him. The country is still far from transgender acceptance but let’s hope this is a baby step towards that.

The last good thing that came out of this film is that I got my entire family to go out to the movies. And this is pretty rare because my mother only likes to go to Filipino movies (she only understands Indian-accent English, she revealed only last week) and the other half of this extended family would rather spend money on rice and electricity and pirated DVDs than an entire day’s salary for two hours. Also, my 81 year old grandmother (who lives in a distant island of god knows where/I’m not telling you) enters a cinema for the first time! It’s kind of cool.

Comment below if you want to converse. It’s easy and I’m harmless.

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