January 5, 2017
"Die Beautiful" earned a lot of pre-festival buzz because it won Audience Choice and Best Actor for star Paolo Ballesteros at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Ballesteros also received a special Jury Prize for Acting at the Kerala International Film Festival in India. At the MMFF awards, it also won Audience Choice and Best Actor, as well as Best Supporting Actor. Despite its R-13 rating and black comedy style, this film ended up as the festival topnotcher in ticket sales in Metro Manila theaters.
Since he was a child, Patrick always fancied himself joining and winning beauty contests. Disowned by his strict father who was repelled by his sexual orientation, Patrick morphed into a beautiful transwoman named Trisha Echevarria. Together with his best friend and make-up genius Barbs, Trisha made a living joining beauty contests. He was so obsessed about his beauty that he endorsed to Barbs that if ever he died, he wanted to be made up as a different celebrity on each night of his wake.
Jun Robles Lana's name attached to a film as writer and director can now be seen as a guarantee of a good film. So far, his most recent films "Bwakaw" (2012), "A Barber's Tale" (2013) and "Anino sa Likod ng Buwan" (2015) all gained top critic nods and respectable box office takes. "Die Beautiful" now joins that illustrious list and is remarkably the most colorful and flamboyant of all his films.
Lana tried to stuff all the issues faced by transgenders from as children, teenagers and adults. These include father conflicts, sibling apathy, sexual assault, shallow relationships, child adoption, and plastic surgery. In addition, there loads and loads of hilarious inside stories behind gay beauty pageants. To top it all off, there were those scenes featuring the fantastic makeup sessions of Paolo Ballesteros as his famous viral photos of celebrity transformations come alive. His Angelina, Julia, Britney, Mariah, Gaga, and Regine are all so vividly recognizable and gorgeous.
I did not really know much about Paolo Ballesteros until the Aldub phenomenon had me watching some episodes of the Eat Bulaga kalyeserye out of curiosity. Ballesteros' "beauty" as the glamorous Lola Tidora was a standout among the three funny Lolas. Playing the stunning Trisha from teenage to mid-adulthood, Ballesteros gave his all in his very demanding starring role. He convinced us he was Trisha, a real person. He never once became corny in his colorful and robust portrayal. He deserves the Best Actor accolades he has received here and abroad.
New actor Christian Bables went toe to toe with Ballesteros as Trisha's best friend Barbs. He practically had the same screen time as the lead, stealing scenes with his sassy lines all the way. His Best Supporting Actor trophy was well-deserved. Veteran actors Joel Torre and Gladys Reyes both give able support in their roles as Patrick's unsupportive father and sister. Albie Casino seems destined to play bad guys for life. The whole subplot with Luis Alandy felt long and unnecessary in my opinion. Those cameo episodes featuring Iza Calzado and Eugene Domingo were riotous fun.
The story telling may not have been not linear, but the continuity was never confusing. This was a very entertaining and eye-opening film. I have to take exception though to the inclusion of graphic scenes of sexual violence, not once but even twice in the film. Not only did it earn the film an R rating, I felt these scenes were so out of place in the generally wholesome scheme of the film. Frankly, since certain suggestive scenes were already sufficient to tell us what happened, they need not have to be shown at all. 8/10.