Thursday, August 16, 2018

Pinay Beauty


Annie (Chai Fonacier) is the only person left to join the ranks of her friends who have all made it to Hong Kong Disneyland, where they are paid to portray beautiful princesses. She has auditioned several times but has been rejected over and over again. She believes it has something to do with her skin color and facial features, which is why she makes it her raison d’être to prep herself for cosmetic surgery. Her boyfriend Migs (Edgar Allan Guzman) is ever supportive, and embezzles more than PHP100k from his loan shark boss to fund his girlfriend’s opearation. He is now given an ultimatum, either to return the money or to hook up his boss with Lovely (Maxine Medina), a matinee idol who is caught in a career crossroads of sorts. Given the circumstances, Migs enlists the help of his eager friends to accomplish either task before the deadline.

Medina could use more workshops. Her enthusiasm in playing the character is as inconsistent as her energy. We can see her trying but her efforts just don’t translate well onscreen. Even her diction is all over the place. As for Fonacier’s Annie, her struggle seems all so superficial at first and there are times when you just want to pummel her with some harsh truths to inject some sense into her, but her portrayal is just so damn relatable and her approach does not lack the required humanization for you to easily empathize with her.

As for Guzman and the rest of the cast, it is obviously an ensemble effort. Friends without subplots are ubiquitous in Star Cinema rom-coms. They copy that formula. Here, you have a group that capitalizes on being quirky for the sake of audience impact. Sometimes it works, sometimes the attempt falls flat. Nonetheless, the chemistry of the group is palpable, but perhaps better-suited for a sitcom than a movie screen.

One of the things I like about Pinay Beauty is that it dispels the myth that you can’t be beautiful if you are not white. In this narrative, the object of admiration or envy is Medina’s character Lovely, who is morena and prettily so. In a country obsessed with whitening products, it’s such a breath of fresh air to be presented with a movie that takes pride in the typical Filipino skin tone. We’re not saying that this will change anything, but at least it is a start, right? After all, such fascination with Caucasians is rooted deeply in the nation’s history.

300 years in a Spanish convent and 40 years in Hollywood, indeed. That’s colonial mentality for you. Most of the models that you see on billboards and popular media here are either white or half-white with well-defined Caucasian features, which is downright weird when you consider how a vast majority of the population consists of brown-skinned and flat-nosed Filipinos who have grown up thinking that they are not good-looking because the standard of beauty imposed on them is that of a mestizo minority that does not probably even constitute 5% of the country’s entire population. Crazy, right?

The narrative is very clear with its message, but it is with the presentation that it stumbles. There is no shortage of reminders as to how impossible either task is, and the plot goes to great lengths to justify various absurdities that are simply hard to buy. In the end, they actually accomplish one of the tasks but you are left with the feeling that everything is just a lazy cop-out because the events and circumstances leading to such plot point are not convincing at all, a contrived Deus Ex Machina to tie loose ends together. As such, it feels as though the momentum built up during the first half is wasted on a so-so conclusion, a premise with a great promise that is left unfulfilled.

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