By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

Directed by
Antoinette Jadaone

WE’VE seen some of our stars without filters: less than perfect, maybe a zit here and there; we’ve seen them act in an unsavory manner, as people. The hype is hardly ever real when it comes to these people, as the plot of Fangirl implies, but the movie, which set social media abuzz, hits the hype.

Award-winning director Ms. Jadaone, known for romantic comedies with a cerebral flavor, does it again, but this time, she translates the tropes that make us believe in love to make us believe in something more sinister. No wonder this film made it to the Tokyo International Film Festival (where it premiered), but also at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia. It also won Best Picture at the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) this year. I knew we were watching something great when I noted the attention to detail in one for the very first shots of the film: Jane (played by relative newbie Charlie Dizon) has chipped red nails, seen while holding up her phone in a roaring jeepney to catch a trailer of the object of her desire, a fictionalized version of movie star Paulo Avelino (played here by himself, a role that won him Best Actor at the MMFF this year).

Jane jumps inside Paulo’ pickup and becomes a stowaway, herself secretly hoping this becomes the rom-com plot of her life. Instead we see how society treats its stars: wonderfully. Paulo skips a traffic violation with his star status, and she sees several gifts meant for him, ignored in a truck flatbed along with junk.

One of the reasons why the film made such a buzz online was Mr. Avelino’s scene featuring frontal nudity: it’s shown quite early on, with Jane serving as a voyeur. Was it necessary? Maybe. One of the film’s points is the toxic dialogue between fan and star, and a peen on the screen makes us ask ourselves: we say we want to see everything from a star, but is this part of what we want to see? Is this how we want to see it?

Well, Jane and I both know that this wasn’t going to be a rom-com when Paulo pulls up at a ruined mansion. It’s dark, and beads of sweat well up on Jane’s forehead. There’s a rusty old gate, which is never unlocked — this seems to serve as a symbol of the celebrity and the civilian Paulo in this universe. The gate allows the house to be seen, but one has to shimmy up the gate to enter the actual house, and it’s no easy task: Jane has to nurse a wound for the rest of the film, the price she pays for the 24 hours with her star. The house itself becomes a character: while we expect celebrity encounters to have only the best of the best, this house is hot, sweaty, filthy, and bare; the meals are cans of sardines, beer, joints of pot, and bumps of coke. The house subverts the dream house, and along with it, the dreamboat who resides within.

We have to applaud this Charlie Dizon, who plays our protagonist, and took home the Best Actress award. She’s frequently dishevelled, with hardly any makeup, but her beauty is still evident. She has a heart-shaped face that would uncomfortably remind one of Nabokov’s Lolita (the 20-something actress plays a 16-year-old in the film), while she has a husky whisper perfect for film noir, with a tone easily advanced beyond her years. She has a writhing sexual fantasy about Paulo, she chokes on cigarette smoke, takes her first hit from a joint — basically tasting most everything unsavory about “maturity” all in a span of 24 hours. Ms. Dizon handles the role quite deftly, so demanding and mature for an actress with a face that is practically a girl’s. She has also starred in more mainstream fare, such as the prequel to Four Sisters and a Wedding. I’m willing to wager that we might be looking at the birth of a new star.

The film frequently questions the real and the reel: for example, one of the film’s points of exposition takes place in a mall show, for which Jane cuts class. It seems to have been shot concurrently with an actual mall show that Paulo Avelino and Bea Alonzo actually did for a film which actually exists, so that alone makes us question how they pulled it off in the first place. Her hallucinations with Paulo have a leitmotif: golden light for when it’s reel; gray everything when it’s real. In fact, in one scene, it shocks us so much, because while he appears to whisper to Jane while appearing as a golden Prince Charming, it all disappears in a wisp, and Mr. Avelino is looking at her quizzically. It shows the star barefaced, and even — am I allowed to say it? — slightly ugly. Who would have thought that the face of one of the most handsome stars on the screen can become a jump scare?

While the film is about the two-way toxicity between supplicant and idol, we see the film’s actual thesis when Jane finally reaches home (a plot point hinted at in an earlier scene). Paulo then, isn’t just a representation of celebrity status. Paulo is an avatar of all the horrid men we’ve ever met in life: he shouts, he curses, he snorts, he beats; amplified hundredfold and disturbingly concealed by celebrity, money, and good looks. That’s what makes this film so disturbing: you just might be going to bed with someone like that right after watching.