Die Beautiful

My first Metro Manila Film Festival, or, 2016 Had One Good Thing

Alternate Title: Bandwagoning on the review train because I took ONE Film Appreciation class in university.


I don’t usually watch Filipino films, but when the Metro Manila Film Festival–infamous for showing hackneyed franchise films, advertisements-turned-movies, and slapdash vehicles for studio loveteam(s)-du-jour–released an indie-dominated 2016 slate, I knew I had to hit the cinemas.  Originally, I was just going to watch Saving Sally, the animated/live-action hybrid that promised to fulfill all my Scott Pilgrim/(500) Days of Summer/John Green fantasies (go ahead, call me basic), but after I saw the trailers of the others, I decided to go for broke (literally; popcorn is expensive) and watch more.

Here’s what I checked out:

  • Saving Sally – Best Original Score
  • Sunday Beauty Queen – Best Picture
  • Die Beautiful – Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor

Since everyone is leaving their thoughts on Facebook–and frankly since I want the MMFF to go on like this–I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts on the films I did watch.  Ladies and gentlemen, here is my MMFF Review Digest (complete with emoji score), starting with the first film I watched…

Saving Sally
Rating: 🎨🎨🎨/🎨🎨🎨🎨🎨 + one 😭 bonus for the after-credits scene.

“It’s not a ten, but it’s the best eight I’ve ever seen.” – My friend, Marvs

Actually, Sally as a movie was more a seven (or high 6) for me.  Even though I loved the film to bits and 10/10 would watch again, I have to admit that the criticism it’s received is well-founded.  The story isn’t balanced, dragging at some points (especially the first thirty minutes) and being rushed in others.  The climax, in particular, was, well, anticlimactic, and I have to agree with another friend, AJ, when he said that the story could have ended at an earlier point in order to remain more powerful (the credit sequence would have sufficed to round off the plot without killing the drama, although we would have suffered a bit from never learning the “secret project”).

Script-wise, Saving Sally definitely could have been stronger, but its visual appeal cannot be overstated. The blend of animation and live action is gorgeous, with many screengrab-able moments for when you finally watch it on DVD/digital download. The little inside jokes and nods to Pinoy geek culture are fun to spot, especially if you’re a fan of people like Arnold Arre and Budgette Tan/Kajo Baldisimo.

Objectively, you could call Saving Sally a mediocre movie. Could.  It suffers from a lot of “great idea, meh execution” moments. But the strength and simplicity of the idea–the heart of the movie, really–carry the film through.  It’s definitely a movie for the John Green/Scott Pilgrim/Garden State crowd, and you might have to manage your expectations against overhype, but if you fit this film’s admittedly niche target market…you’ll love it. Especially if you stay for the post-credits scene, which I feel rounds off the film perfectly and reduced me to tears.

Dressed as Sally to watch the movie because I’m geeky like that.

Also, I will definitely be going as Sally to APCC/NexCon/Cosplay Matsuri this year.

Sunday Beauty Queen
Rating: 👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻/👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻

Honestly, I’d debated whether to give this a 4.5/5 or a perfect five, since Sunday Beauty Queen‘s style of documentary storytelling does take a bit of getting used to.  However, looking back, I don’t think you could tell this story any other way without ruining it.  This docudrama refuses to pander to the usual OFW clichés, rendering its painful moments–and there are many–with restraint, a choice which makes those moments hit so much harder than if it had assaulted us with primetime soap opera-worthy crying faces.

The Beauty Queens themselves refuse to be “martir.” Even as the describe the abuse they receive at the hands of unfair employers, they are sassy and brassy and brave, refusing to lose their dignity.  Whether they are fumbling their English pageant answers (I felt so bad when people started laughing in the theater! I even shushed my mum!) or describing a fight with a soon-to-be ex-boss, these women are as straightforward as the film that portrays them, and wisely, that film focuses more on the personalities of its subjects rather than the drama of their circumstances.  You really get to know these women, get to watch as they go from helper to queen to helper again, and find underneath every transformation this fighting spirit that’s at once touching and inspiring.

10/10 more proud to be Filipino than ever. Must-watch.

Die Beautiful
Rating: 👄👄👄👄.5/👄👄👄👄👄

This film should have won best screenplay (also basing this on my friends’ reviews of Seklusyon, as I can’t watch horror without making my insomnia worse) , and anyone who says otherwise can FITE ME.

That being said, let’s address the elephant in the room: this is an LGBT+ film.  A very unapologetic LGBT+ film.  And I am an extremely conservative, Bible-believing, world-would-call-me-a-bigot-I-know, Christian.

So what are you doing watching that kind of movie?

Compassion.  That’s why.  It is so easy to scream “Sinner!” and “Unspeakable!” when the ones you scream at don’t have names or faces, but I dare you to think of Tricia and her compatriots as anything but human after watching this film.  While still possessing a level of camp–the jokes get green, and they get green fast–Die Beautiful triumphantly demolishes the disgusting, one-dimensional gaysploitation convention that the MMFF’s previous, Vice Ganda-led comedies actively capitalize on.  We are not watching caricatures here; we are watching people, and that fact shines through even the film’s own clumsy, less-nuanced moments (*coughthe funeral directorcough*).

Which is not to say that Die Beautiful does not disgust. At one point in the film, I wanted to walk out, but even then it was for a reason the film I’m sure intended. A lengthy, graphic (though not explicit or exploitative) rape scene that is revisited several times in the film acts a reminder of just how brutal the cruelty LGBT+ individuals receive can be. It’s sickening that some people have said Laude–the transgender murder victim whose story inspired the film–deserved to die because of what they were, and Die Beautiful makes sure you understand just what that assertion means, makes you look it in the face multiple times and challenges you to say that anyone could deserve what Tricia Echevarria got.

If there was anything that lost Die Beautiful its points, it was the unfinished nature of Tricia’s story with Shirley May, the adopted daughter. We find Shirley a repentant rebel at the beginning of the movie, and later on flash back to her as a loving and supportive, wise-beyond-her-years little girl, but what fueled the shift from doting daughter to prodigal was largely left unexplored, and in truth, writing Shirley May as an angry teenage girl was unnecessary, if her story wasn’t going to contribute much to the plot. (The handling of Gladys Reyes’ role as Tricia’s sister Beth was much better, despite her shorter screen time.)

Still, even if the film was not perfect, it definitely lived up to its name: Beautiful. Challenging and compassionate, it reminds conservative viewers to look at these often-marginalized members of society with eyes of grace, not judgment.  For that reason, I was glad that it was the last movie I watched in this year’s MMFF line up: it was the perfect example of what Filipino films should be.

Also, Christian Bables is a national treasure, and Barbs should win the award for best friend ever.  With all love to Paulo Ballesteros, whose award for this film was well-deserved, BARBS WAS THE REAL STAR OF THIS MOVIE. I CANNOT. BES, I LOVE YOU BES.

This concludes my “review dump” for the MMFF.  I’ve heard reports that the festival may be extended to January 7, and if the news is true, please watch all these films and the others, if you haven’t yet.  PLEASE.  Let’s keep the MMFF this way! 

(#SavingSine, char.)