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Fan Girl Review: Allegory of the Diehard Devout Stan (DDS)

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[Spoiler alert! Trigger warning: This film contains scenes depicting child sexual abuse.

By L.S. Mendizabal

In 2000-something, dressed in my high school uniform, I went to the local city mall during class hours to see Orange and Lemons perform live. Armed with my Nokia 7250, I remember chasing after the band members on the escalators—they were going up, I was going down!—desperate to get closer images of them. My fangirling skills include effectively elbowing my way through crowds at jam-packed concerts and shows to get to at least second row, but nothing as wild as what Antoinette Jadaone’s latest film’s titular character is capable of doing for a more intimate encounter with a stranger she equates to nothing short of a god.

Fan Girl begins like any other movie directed and written by Jadaone in the Filipino setting with its depressing nature often eclipsed by dry Pinoy wit and humor and an ambitious, strong-willed female protagonist. In this case, she’s a 16-year-old high school student (Charlie Dizon) with chipped hot pink nail polish and an unhealthy obsession with a celebrity (Paolo Avelino playing a fictional larger-than-life version of himself). Paolo’s omnipresence from the internet to life-size cut-out standees and billboards as well as his effortless evasion of traffic laws establish the character’s popularity. When the fan girl skips class to see him at a mall show and stealthily makes her way to the back of his pick-up truck where she hides herself amongst her idol’s posters, merchandise and gifts from other fans, the mood is light, airy, silly, even borderline rom-com. The only real source of conflict is if she gets caught. The minute Paolo drives past the toll gates and spews out his first “Putangina!” of probably a thousand, the viewer is taken into a darker, harsher environment: vast rice fields and grasslands, rough roads, no electricity, a heavily locked gate one should climb over, an old, abandoned mansion/drug den. The fan girl is now trapped, hours away from home, her phone unable to send a single text. In her eyes, however, everything is brightly optimistic, not unlike Paolo’s romantic flicks. She feels safe with him. He can do no wrong. She is close to him and nothing else matters.

Screengrab from the film Fan Girl.

The fan girl is clearly delusional. Blinded by hero worship and overall naivete, she is not a reliable storyteller. Like Paolo, the film undresses from its initially attractive exterior and reveals the plot at its core: an obsessed girl—a child!—is stuck with a vaguely threatening male adult, the object of her obsession. Without giving away too many spoilers, all the viewer’s fears come true as the two main characters spend a day and a night over alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. The fan girl takes everything he offers, eager to please her host. Dizon gives one of the most convincing performances I’ve seen of someone new to these substances. I’m happy to report that you’ll find none of that stupid “Pare, hindi ako lashing” sort of drunk acting here (if you’ve seen Filipino movies and teleseryes at all, you know exactly what I mean). Dizon is truly beguiling in the way that her character tries to play a more mature seductress (“Hindi na ako bata,” she says thrice) but is betrayed by her perennially sweaty upper lip, stringy hair and breath that reeks of vomit. In the hands of a cis-hetero male writer / director, scenes like this could’ve easily become something like a glorified sex scandal.

Screengrab from the film Fan Girl.

Paolo is appalled yet intrigued by the fan girl’s childish qualities. Her adoration fuels his ego and aggravates his desire to exploit and dominate her. I’ve seen many a disturbing movie but this one has still made me turn in my seat. Sometimes, there’s nothing more terrifying than watching a megalomaniac take advantage of a fanatic too smitten with him to see what he really is: a macho-fascist, misogynist and rapist. On the other hand, Paolo is written as somewhat of a caricature-like villain, complete with tattoos, alcoholism, drug dependence and a heavy metal score. Personally, I find this a bit much but I guess it was intentional. After all, he does remind me of the Dutertes and their refreshing “bad boy” strongman mass appeal what with their rugged demeanors and similar choice of expletives to Paolo’s in the sea of polished orators and traditional politicians. There are rare instances when Paolo shows a more human, sensitive side. This disappears almost abruptly with each opportunity of manipulating the fan girl. The car scene where she has a meltdown (Dizon’s award-winning moment, in my opinion) and asks if she could stay one more night with him is the viewer’s first glimpse of her personal struggle. We come to understand that she does not look forward to coming home to a mother who is similarly enamored with her abusive stepfather. The fantasy of Paolo has been her escape all along.

Screengrab from the film Fan Girl.

Fan Girl is a coming-of-age horror story and an allegory of sorts. Knowing one of the script consultants and film poster designer, Karl Castro, and his controversial yet critically praised thesis production, Manwal sa Paggawa ng Pelikula (2007), I can see how Fan Girl, too, is a critique of the film industry itself: how it keeps artists’ careers afloat with love teams and fake romances, how it feeds on stan culture and how the industry has looked the other way when its biggest earning stars go unscathed after sexually abusing or raping hapless individuals.

In a post-Duterte Philippines, where celebrity, influencer culture, fanaticism and social media are all effectively used and weaponized by the current regime against all forms of dissent, Fan Girl is undoubtedly a product of its time. We see how a diehard devout stan (DDS) continues to believe and venerate her idol despite all the truths she’s uncovered. It doesn’t bug her that he has lied about being Bea Alonzo’s boyfriend, or that he uses drugs, or practically treats her like trash. She only begins to question his morals when she discovers that he’s screwing a married woman. And then, without warning, the fan girl ceases to be loyal to Paolo when she witnesses him beat said woman. The instant she sees her own poor family in Paolo’s woman and child is when the fantasy is shattered. The spell is broken and her prince becomes a frog. The lack of transition is quite jarring. However, if seen and appreciated as an allegory, Fan Girl’s ending actually makes perfect sense: Now surrounded by posters and tarpaulins of President Rodrigo Duterte’s face, the fan girl, whose name we actually find out in the end, decides to help her family by putting an end to her stepfather’s abuse. Who does she turn to? The repressive state institution being championed by diehard devout stans, of course. She has exercised personal agency. The problem lies within the very system that only serves and protects Paolos.

Disturbingly dark, twisted, unforgiving in its honesty and social commentary, and arguably her best and bravest yet, Fan Girl is entirely unlike any other movie by Jadaone. And we need more stories like this now. More than ever. #

“Basta” or why the RC Cola ad does not need your interpretation

By L.S. Mendizabal

I will not say how the ad goes because if you have been on social media the past week, you know the one. You’d also know that it has caused quite a stir among netizens with their reactions ranging from “Brilliant! Genius!” to “This is gross!” preceding an emoji that’s about to puke. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just google “RC Cola Commercial” and proceed at your own risk.

Full-blown reviews, analyses of and speculations about the ad have been circulating on Twitter and Facebook, and boy, are they some of the most entertaining, ridiculous things I’ve read in a while after Panelo’s speech for Duterte’s birthday. But what does the viral commercial really mean according to its creators? Gigil Advertising Agency co-founder Herbert Hernandez explains that they wanted to convey “a mother’s unconditional love.” “The mother poured her all for her [adopted] child. Even if they are not related, she loves him,” he says in an interview with ABS-CBN News. Um, okay.

Some who actually adopted or were adopted didn’t get this particular message from the ad, saying that it made a joke out of the social stigma that comes with adoption, with others also pointing out an undercurrent of colorism in it (the adopted kid was portrayed by someone with darker complexion and textured curly hair). I happen to think that being offended by this commercial is completely valid and inevitable. Clearly, the ad, despite what its creators may tell us, was designed to shock, provoke discussion, possibly enrage some people and generally sell the product. Whether we like it or not, it has succeeded in its objectives. We probably won’t be able to look at a bottle of RC Cola (and our mothers) the same way ever again. And I bet more households are now going to be reminded of it come merienda time. With its lower selling price compared to its competitors’, why not?

Then again, why do people drink soda, instant coffee or beer in the first place? Why do we have to choose from a hundred brands of canned food? Why do we whiten our teeth—and as a matter of fact, everything—or want the next technology in phones and cars? The commercial’s tagline, “Basta!” seems to justify all our “needs” as dictated by consumerism.

The viral ad and other bizarre TV commercials of late bring fetishism of commodities here in the Philippines to the next level, a whole genre of the ludicrous and the occasionally disturbing. Expect more “shockvertising” and rage marketing in the coming months, akin to popular TVCs in Japan and Thailand. Fresher, more creative, out-of-the-box ideas will flourish and compete for our money in exchange for products we don’t even need.

Since most of the advertising these days is online, middle class Generation Z seems to be the biggest target audience. These kids practically rule the Internet, sharing memes, trolling one another, engaging in online “bardagulan,” and some such. There’s no limit to the weirdness they are capable of absorbing. After all, this is the generation that invented “Hakdog,” an expression that means literally nothing and merits no logical explanation.

It seems that the joke is lost on those who dare read deeper meanings into the RC Cola ad. We are so taken aback by its graphic, horror-like qualities that we fail to see the sexism in traditional, more visually pleasant TVCs where it’s suggested that a mother should aspire to smile all the time in the midst of hardships, immaculate in appearance, her hair perfectly coifed, always at her husband and children’s beck and call; or the exploitation in ads that depict farmers and workers creating their products to be absolutely blissful beings, thanks to good ol’ Filipino spirit of resilience and an optimistic Eraserheads song playing in the background.

Sex and sexism sell, so does resilience porn. Surrealism seems to be the next frontier for local advertising. I’d be lying if I said that the RC Cola ad’s irrational dark humor didn’t make me laugh. But more importantly, it also gives me hope that we are indeed at the cusp of the dying of late capitalism. Ah, basta! #

References:

Abellon, B. (2020). “From the makers of the viral RC Cola ad”. ABS-CBN News. Retrieved from https://news.abs-cbn.com/ancx/culture/spotlight/11/30/20/from-the-makers-of-the-viral-rc-cola-ad-these-equally-goofy-commercials

Cruz, A. (2020). “Some netizens think RC Cola’s new ad is insensitive”. Preen.ph. Retrieved from https://preen.ph/118794/rc-cola-ad-insensitive-netizen-reactions-bn

‘Mabining Mandirigma’ restages at CCP

The Cultural Center of the Philippines stages the award-winning steampunk musical ‘Mabining Mandirigma’. It is produced by Tanghalang Pilipino, the resident theater company of the CCP..

First staged four years ago, it is Tanghalang Pilipino’s 33rd season opener. It runs from August 16 to September 1.

Veteran stage actor Monique Wilson plays Apolinario Mabini, the first Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Secretary of the Philippines. It presents Mabini’s ideals and the challenges he faced. It focuses on Mabini’s life as the top adviser of President Emilio Aguinaldo during the Philippine-American War, his imprisonment in Intramuros, his exile to Guam in 1901, and his death months after his return to the Philippines in 1903. #

Late Review: Spider-Man Far From Home

By Tyrone Velez

It was right at the peak of the third act of Spider-Man: Far From Home, where our friendly neighborhood teenage-super-hero was hyper-kinetically evading the drones and trying to get to bad-guy Mysterio, that I had these thoughts:

This is the third version, and third actor of Spider-Man in the past 17 years.

There have been seven Spider-Man movies in the last 17 years, plus one animation movie (Into the Spider-Verse) and three MCU appearances (Infinity War, Endgame and Civil War). He’s tied with Iron Man with the most appearances in MCU with ten movies, with Wolverine coming at second with nine.

There are hits and misses in the whole Spider-Man movie cannon. This one is more of a miss.

What I like in this movie:

1. Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker.

2. Zendaya is a nice version of MJ. Very millennial-geeky-cute. Her chemistry with Tom works.

3. CGI is good, especially when Mysterio wrapped Spidey into his cage of fear and confusion.

4. JK Simmons’ comeback as J Jonah Jameson in the mid-credits makes one excited for the next movie.

5. The mid-credit cliffhanger. Everyone knows who Spider-Man is.

6. The revelation reflects our world today of fake news, disinformation, news as entertainment and hero-worship built on news and hype.

Now the bad things of this movie. Plot holes and poor character development:

1. Peter Parker is smart, but how did he get so stupid to trust someone like Mysterio whom he just met for a day and gave him the parting gift that is EDITH of his beloved mentor/father-figure Tony Stark? 

What is Peter’s motivation and character in this movie? The movie jumps right away into him hyped about a European vacation and going after MJ. Wait, is he supposed to be grieving?

2. Plot holes aplenty. How come no Avenger, or Doctor Strange, was available to check on Mysterio and his claim of a multiverse? Can Talos not ring the real Nick Fury for SOS? But that is the plot of the movie. Everyone got stupid.

3. What is the motive of Mysterio? Revenge? Attention? Gylenhaal is great, but he swings from cool to maniacal too much. Vulture from Homecoming was the well-developed relatable villain.

4. Too much Avengers and moping about Tony in this movie. Too caricaturist schoolmates and stupid teachers in this movie. There was not much time to develop Peter Parker and his angst, which should be the thing that draws us to relate to this character.

5. Too much CGI, sometimes it gets over the top. Go back to the story dude.

I remember watching Spider-Man 2 in 2004, and that was a great story of a young man facing the crisis of being a hero and the sacrifices one takes for saving the world.

Or as Peter B. Parker in “Into the Spider-Verse” (my second favorite of the Spidey canon) says: “It takes a leap of faith”. Far From Home was just jumping all over, without making that leap that we can cheer on. #

Writers and artists nominate Joma Sison as National Artist

Hundreds of groups, artists and personalities nominated Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison as National Artist for Literature Saturday.

Nominators led by the Concerned Artists of the Philippines and National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera beat yesterday’s deadline by a few hours as they submitted hundreds of pages of testimonials and lists of Sison’s works at about 8:30 in the evening at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Citing his profound impact on many Filipinos and on Philippine society through his poems, essays and other articles, the nominators and endorsers urged the Conferral Order of National Artists to formally include Sison in its list as one of the country’s greatest writers.

“The nomination of Jose Maria Sison for national artist for poetry and the essay is moved by recognition of the crucial role he has a played and continues to play in the making of the Filipino community and nation by developing and enhancing the Filipino capacity to understand the Philippine crisis through the poems and the hundreds of essays he has written on the manifold aspects of that crisis,” a part of the nomination entitled “Jose Maria Sison’s Enduring Legacy: People’s Art, People’s Culture” read.

A copy of Sison’s nomination as National Artist for Literature entitled “Jose Maria Sison’s Enduring Legacy: People’s Art, People’s Culture.

Lumbera, University of the Philippines deans Luis Teodoro and Roland Tolentino, writers Alice and Gelacio Guillermo, playwright Bonifacio Ilagan, National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultant Allan Jazmines, Davao-based writer Don Pagusara, UP professor Rommel Rodriguez, and director-producer Soc Jose led hundreds of individual artists, writers, academicians and personalities who nominated Sison.

The Concerned Artists of the Philippines, College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines, Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan, Linangan ng Kulturang Pilipino, Teatro Obrero, Artista kag Manunulat nga Makibanwahanon (Panay), Artistang May Diwang Dagohoy (Bohol), Sining Banwa Performance Collective (Albay) Panday Sining (Metro Manila), Liga ng Kabataang Propagandista, Southern Tagalog Exposure, Kodao Productions and The Philippine Collegian were among the organizational nominators.

Sison has authored dozens of books of essays and poetry published locally and internationally and translated into various languages. He has won several awards as a writer, including the Literary Achievement Award for poetry and essay writing from the Writers’ Union of the Philippines, National Book Award for Poetry (Prison and Beyond), Manila Critics Circle, the Southeast Asia (SEA) WRITE Award for the Philippines for essay writing and poetry (reputedly the most prestigious literary award in Southeast Asia) and the Marcelo H. del Pilar Award bestowed by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.

The nominators singled out Sison’s Struggle for Nationalism and Democracy, Philippine Society and Revolution, and Prisons and Beyond as his most influential books, saying these undoubtedly changed Philippine history and helped define Philippine society.

“[Sison’s essays] have enlightened several generations and inspired them into living lives dedicated to the service of the people in furtherance of the empowerment of the poor, the marginalized and the powerless so they may themselves transform their own lives in a society of peace, prosperity and democracy of their own making,” the nominators wrote.

“He has thereby raised the level of public discourse on such issues as poverty and underdevelopment from the confusion and misdirection of the past to its current focus on their historical and structural roots, and as neither mandated by heaven nor an affliction inherent in the human condition, but as man-made and therefore susceptible to human intervention,” they added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)