Writer and director Howard HF Yambao’s Best Partee Ever could not have debuted at a more opportune time. Drugs, after all, is the buzzword and anything related to it is guaranteed to resonate with the spirit of the times.
it is indeed a cautionary tale about the dangers of doing drugs and the horrors that await those trapped in the intricate and violent web of the criminal and justice system. Despite its overall lack of focus, this QCinema 2016 entry was able to touch on a myriad of societal ills while keeping its audience entertained, making it worthwhile.
The film follows the four-year jail experience of Miguel Giancarlo Ledesma III aka Mikey (played by JC de Vera), the gay son of a former mayor. Mikey was unceremoniously arrested in a police buy-bust operation while he was enjoying a drug-fueled birthday bash in an upscale club. Pleading not guilty to charges and challenging the mode of his arrest, he endures time in a city jail where daly distress shape him into an enlightened human being.
His harrowing time in prison is punctuated by occasional bursts of hilarity (or absurdity) thanks to the colorful characters that populate his new claustrophobic world. He first befriends Marby (Aaron Rivera), a reserved gay man who was also an ex-partee boy, who helps him get used to the daily discomforts of prison life, the endless brawls, and the tiny world politics.
As Mikey settles in, romance springs between him and tattooed inmate Pitik (Jordan Herrera), helping him pass the days that are only interrupted by the hearings of his case and his periodic meetings with Attorney Reyna (Mercedes Cabral), his pragmatic defense lawyer who appears numbed to the pressures of the slow grinding justice system.
He builds connections along the way, thanks to the goodwill he fostered among other inmates, eventually being elected mayor of Gang-Da, a rumbustious group of gay inmates suffering various forms of injustices in the penitentiary. He makes a few enemies as well like the rapist-cum-extortionist Ramon Bong (Acey Aguilar).
All the while, Mikey remains both involved and detached to prison life, refusing to adapt Marby’s cool nonchalance but also not becoming too involved in gang life in jail. After his daily chores, he retires to his sleeping area and turns on the party lights he installed, a reminder of his life outside.
Attracted as he is to passion and a position of leadership, he displays vulnerability to a chosen few like Pitik the only inmate he lured into his personal space to gaze at the party lights and share a kiss with.
Mikey’s life outside and inside jail is linked through the use of electronic dance music (EDM) that creates a parallelism to the thrashing on the dance floor and the violence of the relentless brawls that occur in prison. The dizzying, uplifting effect is a reminder that life is a jungle wherever you are and you must know your place in the ecosystem to survive.
JC, who won Best Actor in the 4th QCinema International Film Festival, was perfect for the role of Mikey. He infuses character to the role by fusing his boyish looks with delicacy and restraint to create a young gay man worth knowing at a deeper level. He transitioned smoothly between rage and vulnerability, a skill best displayed in a scene where he was standing butt naked in the shower angrily daring Ramon Bong to work for his money by giving him oral sex. After their tussle and Mikey was drained of rage, he sank into a feeling self-loathing.
Aaron also created a Marby that is so adorable you want him to be your gay best friend; it’s a pity that he was underused in the film as it would have been intriguing to see the seedy underbelly of his character.
Best Partee Ever is an ambitious undertaking, wanting to take on so many issues in so little time, leaving it unfocused and lacking a theme that serves as the main takeaway for the audience, a point that stands out from the rest.
To some, it may be a film about upholding LGBT rights, a scathing portrait of the country’s criminal justice system, of survival, of pragmatism, even forgiveness. But none of these themes were really developed to pack a solid punch.
Its attempts to be a thesis on the ills of the criminal justice system is half-baked and lost amid gender advocacies, romances and sexual violence.
It does succeeds, however, in dealing complex subject matter with a light hand, making it an entertaining romp of a jail movie. But overall, it gives the impression that if all inmates were to be as good-looking and well-behaved as Mikey, life in the penitentiary would not be so bad after all.
Best Partee Ever is one of the official entries of the 2016 QCinema International Film Festival running until October 22 in Gateway, Robinsons Galleria, Trinoma, and UP Town Center.
(To learn more about the QCinema 2016 entries, read: Nora Aunor, Jaclyn Jose among stars featured in 2016 QCinema Film Festival)
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.