Let’s face it. Despite Pinoys' supposed liberal attitude, transgenders are still objects of curiosity, seen as the odd men—er women—out, in society.
They’re still misjudged. An example would be the case of late Jennifer Laude, the transgender, who, according to Die Beautiful director Jun Robles Lana, inspired this movie, which is currently one of the top-grossing 2016 Metro Film Fest entries.
But not all transgenders are created equal. The story’s hero, uh, heroine, Trisha Echeverria (played by Paolo Ballesteros), is so beautiful, she earns a living joining beau-con (beauty contests in gay lingo). On top of that, she can look like high-profile celebs such as Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Regine Velasquez, and Iza Calzado.
This MMFF 2016 entry opens with a scene showing a little girl (young Trisha, or Patrick to her family) wearing a gown and sash, smiling and waving to an imaginary beau-con audience.
As expected, Patrick grows up having boy crushes, falls in love, experiences heartache, etc. But he has fighting spirit. The ugliness around Trisha (Patrick’s transgender name) doesn’t keep her from acting as a good surrogate mother to a young orphan, whose love makes her rise above trials and disappointments.
Thanks to this innocent love, Tricia finally fulfills her one big dream. Thanks to love again, she gets her one last wish.
Die Beautiful may be a film about transgenders but it speaks to everyone, even to straights. After all, Trisha, like most of us, wears many hats. She’s a mom, a friend, a sister, herself.
Her transformations reflect her many personas. Trisha as Angelina Jolie are similar in that both are devoted moms. The film’s lead character and Lady Gaga are glamor personified. And then again, Trisha and Regine Velasquez do their own makeup.
Each impersonation shows the many facets of someone who lives life by her own rules. It may not seem ideal. But it’s still her rules.
Gender is not the issue here. Neither is race. It’s what’s inside that matters.
Paolo’s Best Actor Award, and Die Beautiful’s Audience Choice honors at the Tokyo International Film Festival prove this universal feeling.
Instead of showing a straight narrative, though, the director used flashbacks throughout the film. Just when you thought you had it all figured out, a scene takes you back in time and you ask questions about where things begin and end.
In an age when instant messaging makes you connect the dots at once, this one makes you pause before you add one and one to make two. It makes you rewind the scene in your head before you reach that Aha! moment.
Director Jun Lana means well. He wants to prove that ghosts of the past haunt the present. He wants to show that whatever you sow—be it love or hate—yields a good or bad harvest, respectively.
It’s just that some of the cause-effect scenes have to follow each other in closer succession.
Speaking of succession, the array of stunning faces as only Trisha can show, is so real, my seatmate in the movie house has only one word for it: beautiful.
Paolo mimics the way Regine’s lips move, the way Julia looks at people so well, you think you’re seeing double. This is a plus, especially in this Hollywood-crazy country.
Because of this, the supposed morbid scenes—like that one in the coffin you see in the trailer, becomes light, even funny.
Even that scene with dialogues on what happens to gays as they age, loses a lot of its sobriety, and becomes a source of a few chuckles. The subject—tackling as it does the plight of gays who can’t have biological children—is weighty. But Die Beautiful makes you feel there’s no reason to fret.
The end of the story, gives my seatmate and her friend reasons to fret, though. They’re asking about what really happened to Trisha. They’re concerned that the very person who should care for her first before all others, remains as adamant as ever. The harshness runs counter to expected behavior in an event as pivotal as the one shown on screen.
But don’t worry. You’ll enjoy the rest of the film for the way it makes a transgender’s life look fun, light, and meaningful.
If Christmas is for mirth and merrymaking, this one fits the bill. Just don’t let your head rule over your heart too often.
Ed's Note: The 'PEP Review' section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial team.