Booba (Joyce Bernal, 2001)
The title is a combination of two words, obviously boobs (or breasts, for the prudent minded) and boba (which is Tagalog for stupid). The titular character (played by gifted comedienne Rufa Mae Quinto), bears both traits, prominent melon-sized breasts and an absurd state of heightened ignorance. Booba's mission is to find her twin sister, the evil kidnapping mastermind Madame X (played by a very hilarious Ai-Ai de las Alas), as promised by her to her dying grandmother (Gina Pareño, who is clearly having fun with her role as guardian ghost with streaks of chronic horniness).
The plot, conceived and written by director Joyce Bernal and prolific screenwriter Mel Mendoza-del Rosario, is absolutely non-sensical. Booba, newly arrived in the bustling metropolis (her choice of transportation from her farflung province, where her family owns a profitable fruit stand, should be seen to be believed), moves from an all-male dormitory (with its hole-infested bathroom door, for better peeping of course) where she worked the nights as a go-go dancer, to a Filipino-Chinese household where she worked as a nanny to an overfed eight year old, before ending up as the police's top secret agent. Poli (an enjoyably uncomfortable Gary Estrada), Booba's partner who has a very unfortunate problem holding an erection, is the obvious love interest, or if we're going to follow the descriptions during the opening credits, the sex object.
The rest of the plot is a series of inane sketches: Booba finally catches up with her evil sister only to throw pails and buckets of water at each other, or when Madame X successfully disposes of her husband, takes over the crime group, and shoots a member for simply looking stupid, or when Booba reveals to Poli that she's a virgin but suddenly rides him like an Olympic-trained rower in probably one of the most bizarrely uncomfortable sex scenes committed on celluloid, or when asked by the president in a press conference of one wish he can grant her, she declares that she wants to be the star of the night, immediately removing her dress to reveal her naked body covered by two glittering stars where her nipples should be, and a whole lot more to fill up its running time.
Following the conventional standards of judging cinematic creations, Bernal's Booba is undoubtedly a bad film. However, it is precisely because of this unabashed badness that makes the movie so watchable (and I believe I am not alone in this one since the movie made tons of money making Quinto an instant star). Bernal, Mendoza-del Rosario, heck, even film studio Viva Entertainment (most famous for their well-made dramas and romantic comedies) have conspired to make a film purely to ridicule anyone and anything they can poke their fingers on and make everyone who dares to sit through the lampoon laugh. It feels like a product of whim where most of the dialogue and the situations were sourced from drunken sessions or sober conversations with colleagues, heterosexual but most probably homosexual (some of the jokes and hilarious banter onscreen are distinctly attributable to the very colorful humor of the Philippines' third sex). Booba doesn't have a moral lesson (actually, the club of Catholic bishops condemned it for patronizing premarital sex, murder, among others in its movie review) and it doesn't need one. It is one circus act from start to finish.
Whim, lively brainstorming and creative sessions, and fortune are not the only reasons why Booba works. A big chunk of the credit belongs to comediennes Quinto and De Las Alas. Quinto is the perfect Booba; she is the Filipino variation of Anna Nicole Smith, adorably clueless but has the ability to invoke anyone's innermost sexual desires. Unlike the famous American blond though, Quinto is intelligent in her comedy, has precise comic timing and her seemingly dimwitted inflection (which apparently is not acted, merely exaggerated) is irresistible. De Las Alas, who has much more experience making Filipinos laugh mostly due to her physical appearance (she is gifted with a prominent chin), is deliciously evil as Madame X. She is vulgar, demented, loud, and kinky, exactly the perfect recipe for the memorable villain.
The success of Booba has been met with further tries to replicate that brand of humor. Rufe Mae Quinto has gone on to portray similarly huge-chested and light-headed characters like in Radyo (Radio, Yam Laranas, 2001), as a radio DJ victimized by a deranged fan, Super B (Joyce Bernal, 2002), as a superheroine, Masikip sa Dibdib (Tight in the Chest, Joyce Bernal, 2004), as a girl whose inability to comprehend English causes her nose to bleed, and Apat Dapat, Dapat Apat (Four in One, Wenn Deramas, 2007), as a domestic helper in Hong Kong. Ai-Ai De Las Alas follows up Booba with films like Ang Tanging Ina (The True Mother, Wenn Deramas, 2003), where she plays suffering mother to several children, Volta (Wenn Deramas, 2004), where she plays a superheroine with the power to control electricity, and Ang Cute ng Ina Mo (Your Mother is Cute, Wenn Deramas, 2007), again, as a mother with problems with her two children.
Joyce Bernal has made several more films, mostly comedies and light dramas; Mel Mendoza-del Rosario has written several more screenplay; while Viva Entertainment, the worst hit of the big studios, is content in producing soft-core pornographic straight-to-video films, limiting their glossy pictures to one or two per year. The very successful comedy of Booba was never replicated and probably will never be replicated. While sometimes funny, the several films that tried didn't have or maintained that natural energy or gleeful abandon Booba balanced. It is for this reason that I return to Booba for a dose of much-needed chuckles during my most stress filled days.
This post is my contribution to M.A. Peel's Comedy Blog-A-Thon at Newcritics.