Astro Mayabang (Jason Paul Laxamana, 2010)
Jason Paul Laxamana’s satire Astro Mayabang is about titular Astro (Arron Villaflor, who very ably inhabits the role with equal parts arrogance and vulnerability), an Angeles City local who literally wears his nationalism with shirts, jackets, caps, and rubber shoes bearing Philippine emblems, who it seems is the film’s singular joke. His oft-mouthed mantra is a not-so-accurate list of Filipinos or men and women with Filipino blood, no matter how little, who have made an impact, no matter how little, on the world. He berates a Caucasian tourist for not giving alms to one of the many mendicants in the city when the United States has colonized the Philippines for several decades leading to its very visible poverty, only to be told off by the tourist that he is not American, but British. He is supposedly supportive of locally produced music but buys his music from pirates. Simply put, he is a package of inconsistencies.
The film’s most oddly beautiful moment involves Astro and Dawn (Megan Young), a Filipino-American lady who wants to discover more of her Filipino lineage, alone in the latter’s house. Angry at Dawn for not wearing the nationalistic clothes he bought for her in the dinner with her friends that she invited him to, Astro scolds Dawn for being ashamed of her roots. Dawn, initially taken aback by Astro’s accusations, starts seducing him, pointing to him how each flag-adorned article of clothing which she is removing from his body, means nothing to what she feels for him. Just before Dawn gets her way with him, Astro rejects her advances, pleading for her to wait for him as he rushes to the city to scour for the cure for his embarrassing impotence.
From then on, the film, in a way that shows a director whose confidence in his material is unassailable, ties all the seemingly incoherent parts of the film together to reveal a portrait of a country far too engrossed in outside appearances to cure its embarrassingly decaying core. That night before the Pacquiao fight that almost surely rejuvenates nationalistic pride to all Filipinos, the proudest one of them resigns to the pointlessness especially amid the malady that pervades the culture, as exemplified by the people surrounding Astro, from his hedonistic employer to his good-for-nothing parents. In the end, he abandons his obsession with everything and anything Filipino in exchange for faith in the Church. The film’s end however notes not salvation but repetition, arguing that impotence within can only exude impotence outside.
In sum, Astro, at least during the initial parts of the film, when his nationalistic angst is in full irresponsible display, is a walking hysterical satire, representing the absurd ironies of the kind of nationalism that is pervading the country: loud, proud and unabashedly branded nationalism. Like a fake Louis Vuitton bag to a shameless social climber, Astro’s clothes, slogans, and unmitigated anger against anything and everything foreign supposedly expresses the abundance of his national pride. As the satire and humor wear off, the film plods into seriousness, reveling in its statement on the values the misdirected youth of this country has skewed, mostly because such values have been intertwined with commercialism and fanaticism, all of which are by-products of the nation’s past as colony to various world powers.
Yet, the character of Astro, the biggest asset of both the entertainment and substantial value of Astro Mayabang, seems to be also the film’s most telling liability. As soon as his novelty wears off and he is unclothed of the momentary charms of his humorous psychosis, Astro is revealed to be rather unlikeable to the point of utter annoyance. That is probably Laxamana’s intent to begin with, to slowly but surely dissipate the artifices of the character until what’s left is nothing but the emptiness of what the artifices represent. It is supposed to chafe, to repel, to frustrate. It is supposed to rock you to your core, push you to evaluate whatever nationalism, whether it is as little or as ridiculously grand as Astro’s, and determine if it stems from the right place or if it is only there to cover up embarrassing shame. If only for that, Astro Mayabang, though it could be more abrasive than funny, is a more than worthwhile comedy.
(Cross-published in Twitch.)