Paolo Ballesteros’s first solo starrer, Die Beautiful, was a huge commercial and critical success when it was released as an official entry to the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) in 2016.
The movie directed by Jun Lana gave Paolo a string of Best Actor awards, including those from that year’s MMFF and the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival and 40th Gawad Urian Awards.
Thus expectations were high for Paolo’s follow-up movie, Barbi D’ Wonder Beki, which opened in cinemas last November 29—also the day the actor and TV host turned 35 years old.
Some of those expectations were met and some, not quite so.
In the Tony Y. Reyes comedy movie, Paolo plays a closet gay named Billy Bayagan whose father (Joey Marquez) is a former policeman and siblings (Smokey Manaloto and Nikki Valdez) are awarded members of the police force.
Given that family background—and they all live under one roof, along with his sister-in-law and niece (Bianca Umali as Miley)—Billy is understandably reluctant to show his true colors.
It also doesn’t help that he is the object of desire of all the women in the mansion that he works in as a security guard.
Billy is lusted after by his big boss’s wife Oprah (Ruby Rodriguez), Oprah’s daughter (Kim Domingo), and the housemaids (led by Cai Cortez)—to the consternation of the security head, Kap Frank (Benjie Paras).
But the one who makes Billy blush is his friend Larry (Ejay Falcon), who also works as a security guard in Club Mwah, a venue for drag shows.
Billy’s life turns inside out when he witnesses the murder of his big boss, and he is wrongly accused of committing the crime.
He runs away and finds his way to Club Mwah, whose owner, Bartolome (Joey de Leon), gives him refuge.
Bartolome understands Billy’s situation because he had a similar dilemma years ago that forced him to disguise as a woman named Barbi.
He then passes on the Barbi legacy to Billy, and Billy wholeheartedly accepts it.
At this point in the movie, the pace picks up because as Barbi, Paolo is able to show off his uncanny ability to look and act like a woman.
Paolo is especially effective in his take on Marilyn Monroe and Wonder Woman, complete with glittery costume and tools.
Entertainment value also rises when Barbi joins the drag shows at Club Mwah, and gets pitted against the resident diva (Thou Reyes).
Watching their production numbers and their backstage bickering is such a delight that they should’ve been given more screen time and importance in the story.
When the focus goes back to the main storyline, the pace slows down and even drags mainly because the general treatment seems dated and predictable.
Paolo as both Billy and Barbi is charming and affecting, something that’s not very far from his performance in Die Beautiful.
But it when he dresses up as a woman that he truly shines, especially with the way he fights like Woman Woman and uses the super heroine’s lasso of truth.
Joey de Leon’s participation in the movie as Bartolome, the original Barbi gives a fitting pop culture reference and some Philippine cinema connection.
Bianca Umali (as Billy’s niece Miley) and her love team partner Miguel Tanfelix (as Cyrus, the brother of Billy’s crush, Larry) try to add some millennial feel to the movie, and they succeed to some degree. However, Bianca's character could irritate some viewers with her over-the-top reactions and her annoying habit of ending every sentence with a hashtag.
Thou Reyes goes into full diva mode that is reminiscent of his memorable part in the stage musical Care Divas.
His Club Mwah director (Epy Quizon) and fellow performers (led by Sinon Loresca and Boobay) bring on the much appreciated energy and humor.
Barbi D’ Wonder Beki could have been a golden opportunity for Paolo Ballesteros to showcase his skills in both drama and comedy especially when it came to tackling issues of the LGBT community. It is a shame that his talent isn't maximized fully by a script that relies mostly on slapstick to generate laughs.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.