Sunday, September 14, 2003

Debut Review

Considering I've gone to three debuts in the last two years, I felt compelled when the opportunity came up to write a review about "the Debut" a Filipino-American movie that recently came out on DVD.

Here is what I posted to a mailing list I'm on:

I watched the Debut in theaters. I suddenly felt compelled to write a review.

I thought it was a decent film. Good quality production. It was a simple plot of the lead character, Ben (Dante Basco), trying to understand his Filipino identity in his American life. There's the generational struggle with his father (Tirso Cruz III), a postal worker who wants his son to be a doctor as opposed to being an artist. Ben, who mostly acquaints himself with white friends, tries to hide his Filipinoness from them as he struggles to both let his friends see this part of his life as well as understand how this Filipino side is a part of him. Much of this of course climaxes around the 18th birthday of his sister Rose.

The movie also attempts to include and mention different aspects of Filipino American identity: the hip-hop heads, the community activist, the gangster delinquent, the immigrants, the american born, the Tagalog speakers, the American born, etc. Though they seemed to be trying to represent different Filipino identities, and thus show the breadth of Filipino America, I found that they were a bit too glossed over and were almost caricatures, which may have been the point since many of those scenes are used to add comedic breaths in the drama. In the end these parts were too much too little.

The basic line of the story has a certain level of "boy-meets-girl" when Ben reacquaints himself with his sister's best friend Annabelle (Joy Bisco), who shows him that being Filipino is nothing to be ashamed of. But what truly shines is the relationship between Ben and his father. We are allowed to see the experiences in his father's life that bring him to wanting his son to be a doctor yet share a love for arts rather than leave him to simply be the "angry immigrant father." Excellent acting by the supporting cast, many of whom are Philippine movie veterans: Eddie Garcia, Fe de Los Reyes, Ernie Zarate. The movie certainly gave room for many of these seasoned actors to shine.

For those who have gone to Pilipino Cultural Nights (PCNs) at college campuses in the U.S., you may find much of the plot old hat, since many PCNs have dealt with these same issues and similar characters. In this way, the movie feels "safe" and does not leave too many questions unanswered.

Certainly in terms of the Filipino American cinema breadth of work, it was a film that had to be made. And really it sets the stage to allow other filmmakers to explore these same issues in deeper and different ways, such as Rod Pullido's Flipside, American Adobo, and to some extent Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow, whose lead character is Filipino. It is certainly nice to see movies about Filipinos with Filipinos reaching more of a mass market since most of the films still only go through limited release at Asian American film fests and sponsored screenings in very very select areas, the latest one making the rounds is "Lumpia."

The North American DVD of the Debut came out this month. Certainly a keeper for your fledging Fil-Am movie collection. Better Luck Tomorrow is out at the end of the month. Flipside is still looking to find a distributor for the home market.

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