Let’s be honest: Praybeyt Benjamin is crap. The roundest character in the film is probably the protagonist, Benjamin (Vice Ganda), a gay guy who enlists for military service in his father’s stead—and that’s not saying much. The conflict of the story is plopped before us bluntly; it is ridiculous by any standard, but we agree to work with it, accustomed as we are to the silliness of our contemporary popular cinema. The story progresses so predictably that throughout the entire screening in the provincial standing-room theater I watched it in, people were yelling their (mostly correct) guesses at what would happen next. The climax, the denouement, even the bloopers as the closing credits roll: it’s all crap.
If you know this already but are planning to see it anyway because you want Vice Ganda to make you laugh on the silver screen, let me save you money and break your hopes this early. She manages to make us laugh for some time, but it all gets tiring eventually. Oo, nakakatawa, eh ano ngayon? It’s nothing that we can’t see on Magandang Gabi Vice.
So banal was the film that midway through I tried to make out what it was trying to contribute to the national dialogue on gender roles. Easy enough, I thought. Benjamin saves the day for his grandfather, who loathes him because of his sexuality, and earns his approval. So, ha! Just because you’re queer doesn’t mean you can’t do stuff. Sure. It’s not like the LGBT community in our country is hiding in a cave somewhere and needs approval of this kind. Vice Ganda herself is an example of accepted, even celebrated, homosexuality; Boy Abunda would be another. There is much more to be done in the way of raising awareness for the LGBT cause, of course. It’s just that Praybeyt Benjamin does not measurably help things—not by a long stretch.
|A still from Mike De Leon’s Alpha Kappa Omega Batch ’81|
But I guess we knew that already, didn’t we? No one walks into a Praybeyt Benjamin screening expecting a performance that would send the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on a plane to Manila to beg the cast to attend next year’s Oscars. As Filipino moviegoers, we interact with our local contemporary popular cinema with copious doses of digression. We know that our plots are thoughtless and our characters flat. With some exceptions, our films are exercises in selective blindness: we pick out the good stuff and push the rest to the background. “Good stuff” in itself is subjective, of course, but—yes—we digress.
I wonder if we’re still on the way to the level of cultural consciousness that does not permit Praybeyt Benjamin standing-room screenings, or if we took a U-turn somewhere along the way. In Film class we looked at a couple of Mike De Leon works, and spoke quite a bit about his contemporaries, and they were always discussed with such reverence that it made me wonder why there isn’t so much talent to slather praises on today.
Do you ever think, when you watch a Star Cinema or Viva Films flick, that you’re wasting your money? When do you think will we start having to think that less often?