Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Thank You Girls (2008)

The Thank You Girls (Charliebebs Gohetia, 2008)

The Thank You Girls is obviously an editor's film. The story is absolutely simple. A group of professional gay pageant contestants who never actually win anything (referred to sarcastically as "thank you girls," in reference to the obligatory script a pageant host would throw to losing candidates as they flock out of stage), travel by jeepney, rickety from the years of use but beautified by its passengers' sheer creativity, from a losing stint in Davao City to Cagayan de Oro City, where they would try their luck in another pageant. Charliebebs Gohetia, the oftentimes incredible editor of some of Brillante Mendoza's films like Manoro (The Teacher, 2006), Pantasya (Fantasy, 2007), Foster Child (2007) and Tirador (Slingshot, 2007), fractures the straightforward narrative, successfully turning the thank you girls' colorful roadtrip into something more profound: an observation on the repetitiousness of these characters' lives.

The traveling group consists of the following colorful personalities: Bernadette (July Jimenez), the boisterous kleptomaniac, Vanette (Kit Poliquit), the cantankerous prima dona, Macario (Kim Vergara), the hopelessly terrible singer, Allyson (Gie Salonga), the loveless queen who is hoping to meet his former love, a sexy starlet who is hosting the gay beauty pageant in Cagayan de Oro, and Paola (Pidot Villocino), the group's mother hen whose maternal skills are consistently challenged by his frisky son Chris (EJ Pantujan) and his wayward lover Carlos (Ari Bancale). Erupting from the unpredictable chemistry (a delightful product of putting together six drag queens in the cramped confines of a jeepney) are several nuggets of comedic genius (atop the jeepney, the pageant contestants practice their Q&A's, often ending with spectacularly spoken declarations that sound good but make no sense at all) and melodramatic twists and turns.
As it is, The Thank You Girls is a whole lot of fun.

Digging through the often humorous and sometimes touching spectacle, you arrive at a well-covered core that might escape the viewer who becomes too enthralled with the shallow delights of the girls' misadventures. Gohetia cuts the narrative, often repeating instances, dialogues, and events, to a certain degree, to guide the story to track a character's sideplot; but more importantly, and I presume, to drive a point.

Gohetia seems to be commenting on the predictability of his characters' lives: as they parrot the same motherhood statement in response to all pageant questions; as Bernadette attempts to pilfer a cellphone, only to be chased away; as Chris participates in anonymous sexual trysts in rest-stops and restaurants; as as they travel from one pageant to another, always to lose. As it turns out, the underlying melancholy that The Thank You Girls subtly assumes is something predictable as well: stories of parents violently treating their homosexual children; stories of hopelessly romantic gay lovers abused and exploited by their objects of affection; stories these drag queens share with the rest of the country, that persistent attempt to rise above poverty, by all means possible, whether it requires a roadtrip worth a thousand miles, meals composed of hundreds of hormone-changing pills, and finales resulting in endless insults, jeers, and sometimes, adulation.

It's a lovely picture: one that utilizes cinema's infatuation with the effeminate homosexual, without exploiting them. It is slightly reminiscent of Lino Brocka's Ang Tatay Kong Nanay (My Father, My Mother, 1978), where the incomparable Dolphy plays a cross-dressing surrogate father (he also dabbles in joining beauty pageants at night) to his former lover's child. Brocka masterfully utilizes Dolphy (who is famous for playing drag queens, most often, to comedic effect) to create a well-made melodrama that forcefully explores, by pitting a gay man with the duties of fatherhood, the painful divide that daunts the homosexual man. While The Thank You Girls is much more cheerful and seemingly impertinent, it nonetheless evokes the same pressing concern: that underneath the cheap make-up, the fake boobs, and the loud costumes, are men surviving through the inescapable redundancy of living.


thebaklareview said...

great review. the best review of the movie i've read.

bonjang said...

I always stay away from gay-centered pinoy films just because of how vulgar and mildly insulting it can be (maximo is one of the few exceptions). With ho wmuch you built this one up, hopefully this makes an American release.

JayAshKal said...

To tell you honestly I haven't seen this film. But I do hope this is not a local "remake" [read: rip off] of the Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (Australia 1994) or the American rip-off version of this movie: To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (US 1995).

When I read "drag queen" + road trip + some version of a vehicle, I am always reminded of Priscilla.

Thank You Girls is a good title, and I hope the plot is too. I'll be waiting for the DVD release, if ever.

Anonymous said...

What a beautifully written, excellent review. I'll certainly seek this film out and I'll also bookmark your blog so that I can read more of you. I think your writing and your film reviews are extremely, admirably well done. Thank you, I'm inspired. pc

Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you for the kind words. Do watch this, if you can. If one needs to compare The Thank You Girls to the drag queen pics already mentioned, just think of this as a more honest look into the misunderstood lifestyle.

chiqui said...

i hope they come up with a dvd

Anonymous said...

I've seen this film on its premier at the UP film Center. It really is a good film. Knowing charliebebs' exceptional talent in writing (we're classmates in a college subject and I was the group leader).. Upon seeing the film, my husband outrightly said, hey, wifey, you have one big promising talented friend here. I was hoping to get a copy of the film, unfortunately, we cannot find one in the a lot of dvd shops... I even wanted my parents to watch it so they can somehow look at how gays nowadays try to survive... The question on gayhood rests on how are they going to be when they get old and can no longer join pageants?