Monday, December 26, 2016

Die Beautiful

After bringing home one first-runner up sash too many, Trisha (Paolo Ballesteros) finally wins a coveted title, that of Miss Gay Philippines. As the queens pose for a final group picture, he feels nauseated and ends up collapsing under the weight of his crown. Rushed to the nearest hospital, he no longer wakes up. What follows is an argument on who should bring home the body. His father (Joel Torre) and sister Beth (Gladys Reyes) both want to bring his corpse back home and bury him as a man, but his best friend Barbs (Christian Bables) won’t budge, arguing that he and his adopted daughter have been his only family ever since they disowned him when he came out of the closet. A glamorous life deserves a fabulous death, and Trisha’s only wish is to be transformed into a different celebrity for every night of his wake. He died beautiful, will he still be on the day of his interment?

When news came out that Ballesteros would be part of a movie showcasing his make-up transformation gig, it felt as though the producers were just cashing in on the attention he has attracted worldwide for his talent as a make-up artist. On top of that, the persistent image of the Filipino gay guy has always been that of the loudmouthed crossdresser cracking offensive jokes at the expense of the people around him, all while joining barangay-level beauty pageants left and right as his raison d’être. What can this film add to the discourse that we don’t already know? Lucky for us, this simply isn’t the case. A motherhood angle is present, and while it does not serve as the main focus of the narrative, it does help in giving the tired premise a heart through the lens of parenthood.

The director opted for a non-linear way to tell his story. This is tricky because it can easily throw viewers off-guard, which is why caution is necessary. That does not appear to be a problem for this film, though. On the contrary, it seems to have helped a lot in fleshing out Trisha’s character even more. With every past event concealed, you sit and eagerly await the next piece of the puzzle. Why did this end up like that? How did that happen? It was also a good plot device to hide some unexpected subplots that just come out of nowhere and hit you at the most opportune moment. You’ll feel as though you’ve known Trisha for years when you leave the cinema. The director has crafted his narrative in a way that it would connect better to its audience. And for that, he deserves some kudos.

Ballesteros’ face has always been a good canvas for artwork. Even before he got famous for his make-up transformations online, he had already been transforming as a woman whenever Eat Bulaga held a ridiculous pageant for fun. It’s both funny and amusing how he always ended up prettier than the biological female members of the gang whenever he was dolled up. But more than his gift for cosmetics, this film has given him the opportunity to explore acting in depth, given how he only dabbled in it before in small roles that did not really showcase his potential.

Winning the award for Best Actor in the recently concluded Tokyo Film Festival, we can say that his first attempt at a lead role has been successful. It mustn’t have been that difficult for him to tap into his real-life situation as a single father to find that gravitas necessary for the role of a parent. Hopefully, he would continue expanding his repertoire and honing his craft. There’s nothing wrong about hosting, but if you have the face and the acting prowess then you can do the local industry a big favor by contributing more as a legit actor in a sea of physically attractive wannabes who can’t act to save their lives.

Bables as Barbs is another revelation. The guy looks familiar, although his name does not really ring a bell. In any case, as the strong-willed and supportive best friend, he manages to hold his own against Ballesteros. Their rapport makes their onscreen relationship look real, as if they have been friends and braiding each other’s hair since kindergarten. He is funny when needed be but also steps up in the dramatically charged scenes. After stalking his IMDB profile, he appears to be a newbie with just two entries in his filmography. Just like Ballesteros, here’s hoping that we’d see more of him tackling different roles. I would not be surprised if the two of them ended up with a clean sweep of the acting awards on the 29th.

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