This is a review of Jun Robles Lana’s Die Beautiful.
The light-hearted trailer of Die Beautiful is the main reason why I watched the film on Christmas day. Thankfully, Jun Robles Lana’s Die Beautiful is unlike a lot of Filipino movies that include the best bits of the product in the trailer. The entirety of Die Beautiful is better than its trailer, way better. It has depth and soul, elements that are usually missing in comedy films.
The opening montage of Die Beautiful is reminiscent of a scene in Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros), where a video footage of young boys playing beauty queens play out in a grand fashion. No one can fault them for being creative with the national costumes (from Philippines to Egypt), bigay todo (all-out) in poses and fierceness, and the made-up names of the contestants are kilometric-long and unpronounceable.
One of the wannabe beauty queens grows up to be a real beauty queen. The boy named Patrick with high hopes to conquer the queendom with his pulchritude is now a transgender woman named Trisha Echevarria (Paolo Ballesteros). He once had curtains draped over his stick-thin body, now she is voluptuous and glamorously bedecked in form-fitting gowns. Sadly, Patrick and Trisha are both dead.
With the help of childhood friend and make-up artist extraordinaire Barbs (Christian Bables), the dead Trisha fulfills her last wish to be a different fabulous celebrity every night of her wake for seven days. Inside a white and simple casket, Trisha takes the form of Angelina Jolie, a favorite of a cherished lover, for the first night.
As Barbs adroitly changes Trisha’s image into a succession of exquisite beauties, the journey of Patrick to Trisha unravels in a flashback. It shows how Patrick stands up for his beliefs to stay true to his real self against his critical father (Joel Torre) and the disparaging insults he gets in school, which climaxes in a criminal assault by a group of supposedly macho boys. As Trisha, her struggles continue as a beauconera (professional beauty contestant) who never wins the title, but those pale in comparison to the heartbreaks she experiences courtesy of men who promise her the world but cannot keep their penises in check.
Aside from her bevy of beautiful friends, Trisha’s only other source of blitheness is her adopted daughter Shirley Mae (Inah de Belen), previously known by the mabantot (smelly) name Adora. Shirley Mae is smart and outspoken as a child and is being groomed by Trisha and Barbs to follow in their footsteps as the next generation beauconera.
Speaking of beauconera, Die Beautiful gives the audience a glimpse of the arduous lives of professional beauty contestants. They visit farmlands in jeepneys filled to the hilt with over-the-top gowns, transform themselves into ethereal beauties in cramp quarters with the help of tons of make-up and wigs, hide unwanted bulges (and Trisha pre-op, had more than her share of those) and exaggerate the curves with packing tape (or something that looks like it) to fit into previously mentioned over-the-top gowns. During the pageant proper, they not only showcase their beauty but their buwis buhay (life threatening) talents by eating and breathing fire and treating their bodies like bendable fly swatter. However, the make or break part is the question and answer portion. It is not a matter of having grace under pressure as the host reads the question but a matter of memorizing the answers to the oft-asked questions and say the answer out loud, verbatim, in a queenly fashion. These scenes are entertaining and eye-opening. In a land where pageantry is as controversial as politics (but beauty titlists do not get 5% of what politicians get), it is grueling and stressful to be a beauty contestant!
That grueling and stressful profession is Trisha’s bread and butter, and ultimately, she dies doing it. The only consolation is, she finally wins the title, just seconds before she collapses with a crown on her head. It is only fitting that Trisha remains beautiful after she dies.
The seven transformations show how multidimensional Trisha was. In Barbs’ words, she was “anak, ina, kaibigan, kasintahan, asawa, at beauty queen” (son/daughter, mother, friend, lover, wife, and beauty queen), and she dealt with each role as best as she could. He was timid as the virginal Patrick but vulgar as the experienced Trisha. She used NSFW terms like titi, keps and dyugdyugan (penis, vagina and sex) when she gave her daughter advice on how not to get pregnant (stretch marks are unbecoming of beauty queens). After a second of shock value, her frankness and lewd language become endearing. Even with the captivating life that Trisha led, Die Beautiful is beyond make-up transformations and beauty contests. It is about a woman whose hopes and dreams continue amidst the obstacles thrown at her by her family and the society that are not prepared to embrace her fabulousness. It captures the struggles members of the LGBT community experience and how they deal with insults hurled at them. It also demonstrates how emotionally strong they are in facing discrimination with smiles on their faces while their hearts crave for a modicum of understanding and support from those they love the most.
This is my first time to watch Ballesteros in motion. I have seen his make-up transformation photos, but he is even better in live action. He plays the role of Patrick and Trisha with sensitivity that is commendable. His Patrick is subservient and pure and thus, believable as someone on the brink of sexual discovery. It broke my heart to watch the sexual assault scene because of the purity he makes me believe Patrick has. Even in his beauconera scenes, he is subtle and never acts louder than the colorful gowns he wears. No wonder, he won the Best Actor award at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival.
Lana’s Die Beautiful is a step in the right direction for Filipino comedy films. It is funny without making fun of anyone and has a coherent story to tell that touches a chord among the moviegoers. It does both without any glaring product promotion in the background.
On a more personal note, I hope Die Beautiful does well in the box office. I watched the film in Gateway Cinema 2, on December 25, 135pm showing. It is the only Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entry with no poster in the cinemas. The board (?) where the movie posters are usually placed near the cinema entrance has a bond paper on it with the printed title of the film. I walked around the whole cinema to look for its poster and there was none. The photo I used on this entry was taken from the video of all the MMFF entries.
Hugot Line from Die Beautiful:
“Ikaw ang asawa, kabit lang ako. Putang ina mo!” – Trisha Echevarria doing a Jaclyn Jose. This was the most applauded scene in the movie.