Monday, August 12, 2019

John Denver Trending


A stolen iPad ruins a young boy’s life. Bullied by his classmates during dance practice, John Denver (Jansen Magpusao) quits the group presentation to rush back home, only to be accused of stealing his classmate‘s iPad. The kid snaps and beats up his bully, not knowing that their altercation is being recorded on video. As the aggressor plays victim and uploads the file on Facebook, the small and quiet town in Antique becomes the center of attention in a social media scandal that erupts and catches the attention of the entire nation. With trial by publicity replacing due process, John Denver is subjected to more bullying and public scorn. As the situation spirals out of control with the involvement of media both online and traditional, his mother Marites (Meryll Soriano) will do everything she can to clear her child’s name, but will her efforts be enough when society has already placed their verdict?

John Denver Trending should be required viewing for anyone who owns a social media account. What it presents is the life cycle of a social media scandal, effectively capturing the ethos of a society whose values and judgment are being dictated more and more by the whims of online trends. It is because of this that this film is quite hard to watch, because each and every one of us has participated directly or indirectly in fostering such kind of lynch mob mentality prevalent today.

Or maybe Filipinos just love underdog stories? This theory proves to be useful in soap operas because there is an obligatory reversal of fortune towards the end of their run. But John Denver Trending is no telenovela. What it does is slap you hard in the face with an inconvenient truth about today’s society without any attempt on poetic justice. After all, this is real life we are talking about here. Just ask anyone who has been cyber-bullied and ended up with 15 seconds of fame that they never asked for in the first place.

As mentioned, this narrative makes you guilty. Everyone has an opinion on social media nowadays, and discussions tend to quickly devolve from intellectual to ad hominem territory with the click of a button. Perhaps the difference is that in this movie, it is clearly established that the subject of cyber bullying is innocent. In real life, though, unless you have the means to fight back you just become the online media sensation of the day without any chance to share your side of the story at all. People will eventually forget you, but not everyone can move on from the kind of trauma such an experience can give.

Acting-wise, Soriano should be doing more movies. She could have given Ruby Ruiz some serious competition had her character been given more exposure. Her intensity gives you more reason to admire the rapport she has with her onscreen son. As for Magpusao, he has this kind of silent demeanor that is not attention-grabbing at all, but his eyes can tell a story and his nuanced acting is primarily derived from that. Given the right training and opportunities, this newbie can go places.

John Denver Trending provides a compelling argument on the role social media has played in the evolution of our society. It is not afraid to pummel you with its hard-hitting truths. The resolution of its story, though laced with tragedy, is a necessary evil to strongly deliver a point and trigger an epiphany on what we have become as a society. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and there is no guarantee that we will get better because of it, but if it ends up encouraging even just one soul to reflect on his/her behavior on social media, then perhaps the film has succeeded in delivering its message after all.

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