Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Panti Sisters


Filthy rich patriarch of the Panti clan Don Emilio (John Arcilla) is dying of testicular cancer. Announcing the bad news to his estranged sons, he invites all three of them to dinner for one final wish in line with their inheritance. Whoever will be the first to give him a biological grandchild will inherit the entirety of his wealth amounting to 300 million pesos. Eldest son Gabriel (Paolo Ballesteros) has left the family home long ago after being disowned for being gay and now works as a drag queen performer at a bar. Illegitimate son Samuel (Christian Bables) considers himself as the Queen of Tondo and goes to the reunion with his opportunistic mother Vilma (Rosanna Roces) in tow. Youngest son Daniel (Martin del Rosario) maintains his K-Pop appearance and is living in with his boyfriend Zernan (Joross Gamboa) who promises him marriage. All their plans are derailed as they scramble to find a girl to impregnate in exchange for their inheritance.

While we are all for representation, it appears the Lana/Ballesteros tandem is fast approaching Vice Ganda mainstream fodder territory, with the same look and style as far as storylines are concerned. You have the loud cross-dressing gay character yearning for acceptance, which is a valid point especially at this point in Philippine society’s history. While the message is clear, the form it takes is beginning to look formulaic year after year and running the risk of being indistinguishable in the long run.

We understand that Ballesteros, Bables, and del Rosario look hella good in make-up and women’s clothes. We totally acknowledge that, but in terms of versatility as far as roles are concerned, there seems to be a case of being pigeonholed here for Ballesteros. At least, Bables and del Rosario get to tackle diverse roles in other acting projects. Of course, this is still their personal choice as actors, but if we are going to see their collaborations looking similar most of the time, the gimmick might quickly get old.

But then again, this is the time-tested formula as far as box office returns are concerned. This is also the very reason why Vice Ganda has an annual MMFF entry. The thing is, there is a reason why the acronym LGBTQIA+ is so damn long, because it’s not just for gays of this type. When will we see the lesbians, the queer, the intersex, the trannies, etc, get their share of the cinematic limelight? At the end of the day, with a mainstream audience mostly devoid of critical thinking, they’ll just end up equating that acronym with this specific sector that society openly tolerates but never takes seriously. Stereotypes?

Perhaps it is also an issue of timing? With the recent social media ruckus brought about by the Cubao transgender bathroom drama, most of the lines you hear in this film feel like they’ve been directly lifted from all the Facebook comments you’ve read in the last few weeks or so regarding the issue, both in favor and against. As such, the dialogues tend to sound a bit preachy even when it is clearly not the director’s intention, due to current events that have come to light as of late.

Even then, given the popularity of the leads and the mass appeal of the film's formula, it does a good job in sharing that side of the debate with an audience that would otherwise not care to listen unless they get the entertainment value that they paid a movie ticket for. If the way to understanding and acceptance is through slapstick and lowbrow comedy, then perhaps this is better than nothing, but maybe it’s not too much to ask for the form to be elevated and improved even bit by bit. Or maybe just blame it on industry content supply and demand?

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