Every school girl’s fan-tasy

Film review: Fan Girl - Ferdinand S. Topacio - The Philippine Star
Every school girl�s fan-tasy
Charlie Dizon plays Jane, a high school student who is a huge admirer of Paulo Avelino.
STAR / File

With an ending directly lifted from Emmanuel Borlaza’s 1983 opus Laruan (with a cigarette-smoking Charlie Dizon waiting with determined loathing as approaching police sirens blare in the background, much like Carmi Martin’s character before her), Antoinette Jadaone tries to take a strong jab at the country’s celebrity culture and its disastrous consequences. In Laruan, it is the obsession with winning in a beauty pageant as a way out of poverty, a message that remains relevant today. In Fan Girl, it is an underage fan’s hot and heavy infatuation with an actor (played by Paulo Avelino playing a fictional version of himself) as a way out of reality.

Charlie is Jane, a high school student who is a huge admirer of the love team of Paulo and Bea Alonzo (here also playing herself). Skipping classes to go to a mall tour for the couple’s upcoming movie If We Fall In Love, she screams and cheers them on, together with a host of other fans, arguing with a fellow fan as to whom Paulo winked at during the show. In the melee accompanying the love team’s exit from the mall, she sneaks into and stows away in Paulo’s pickup truck. There, Paulo unwittingly takes her to his ramshackle quarters somewhere out of Manila. En route, he stops to take a pee on the side of the road, giving Jane an opportunity to secretly take pictures of his genitalia, giving rise to a soon-to-be classic movie line as he messages her friend: “Baklaaah, nakita ko uten ni Paulo. Ang laki!” Having been soon discovered, she tries to flee, only to return to the truck after finding out that the roads are dark and unfamiliar. Having been found out again hiding in the pickup bed later in the evening, Paulo allows her to stay the night, promising to take her to the bus terminal the next morning.

As Jane spends time with Paulo, she discovers more about him: The good and the bad (but mostly the bad). He curses like a sailor, drinks like a fish, lives in near-squalor, does not bathe, takes drugs and has sexual relations with a married woman with whom he has borne a child. Her eyes thus opened but nonetheless still besotted with her hero, she takes it all in stride, alternately deferential yet becoming all-too familiar. And Paulo, while initially resisting the urge to take advantage of his fawning fan, eventually succumbs and has carnal knowledge of her in a powerful scene of unfeeling, loveless lovemaking. Thus starts the descent into disillusionment that ultimately develops into disgust for her hero.

Paulo really went out on limb for this one, playing a vile version of himself so persuasively that his real fans might begin to believe that he is truly that way. The real revelation here, however, is 24-year-old Charlie. How her subtle and nuanced reactions as a naïve girl transformed almost overnight into a shell-shocked cynic is a tour de force that should earn her the attention of critics and more movies for her. If only for the fact that Antoinette found her amongst a mass of virtual unknowns, direk deserves a pat on the back. Charlie essayed the role of an actor-obsessed 16-year-old so convincingly that never in the film would you need to suspend your disbelief.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the story. What started out as a convincing tale gradually evolved into an unbelievable and convoluted storyline that strains credulity to the breaking point. If Antoinette meant the movie to play as a dark fairy tale, she never told the audience. Instead, the writer-director consistently stuck to the premise that the movie is a reality-based social commentary on idolatry and hero-worship that provides fertile ground for misogyny and child abuse. But as the unfolding scenes become more and more unrealistic, the film begins to falter and fail.

As an indictment of the seduction of glamor and the artificiality of showbusiness as opposed to what is real, it has been done before, and with more depth and deft in Lino Brocka’s Stardoom (1971) and its companion piece Kontrobersyal (1981). And as a condemnation of patriarchy, it lacks punch as it focuses on a single central character (Paulo), failing to connect it to a larger picture in relation to Philippine society in general. Just because Antoinette did it differently does not necessarily mean that she did it better. As regards that moral, Lino again trumps Antoinette in Angela Markado and Bona (both 1980), and all within the context of a conventional revenge tale.

Which is not to say that Fan Girl is not a good movie. Very well-acted, well-directed and novel in its approach, it is a worthy contender in a festival depleted by a pandemic. It is just that, after the novelty has worn off, it may be another school girl fantasy that will ill-survive the harsh light of reality.

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