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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

[FILM REVIEW] A Critical Look at Antoinette Jadaone’s Fan Girl (2020)

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Antoinete Jadaone’s Fan Girl (2020) was the highlight of last year’s Metro Manila Film Festival having swept all major awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. The film was a hit among the viewers despite its matured theme. Its box office success could have been more immense if not for the limitation imposed by the current pandemic. 

Indeed, as film critics said, it was Antoinette Jadaone’s most matured and daring work to date. The film’s theme coupled with powerful performances from Paulo Avelino and Charlie Dizon made it one of the most remarkable Filipino films last year.

still from the movie

However, a deeper critical look at the film unearths some of its cinematic issues and challenges.

First, the film tries to critique hero worship or leading men obsession by making a monster out of the hero that the protagonist will later unmask and confront. This is a typical creative maneuver in this genre that has been heavily explored in various films, domestically and internationally.

Personally, I wish the film tried to go beyond the usual “the-hero-is-a-monster-underneath” trope. In fact, there is such a field called Fan/Fandom Studies that reminds us that the dynamics of the relationship between “fans” and “idols” are more nuanced or complex. In fact, the current conversations in this field are about the subversive potential of fandoms, particularly on various ways it can teach real world political organizing on how to organize, resist and even exhibit international solidarity in a borderless digital space as an important situs of resistance.  

The film also somehow attempted to critique the system that exploits and reproduces an “idol” through the story of Paulo. But it failed to explore and interrogate how Jane becomes that “fan girl.”

Second, the ending where the protagonist contacted the police to seek help is problematic. It is as if the film is telling us that despite the female protagonist regaining some agency, she will still depend on state repressive apparatuses for help. This is a major let down given the build-up of Jane’s character which for me was the strongest point of the film.

In fact, the film meticulously fleshed out the transformation of Jane’s ethos- from that first scene that depicted her literally walled by two men, to those other cinematic frames that showed her  “imprisonment” either by her own delusions or the patriarchy that was invading even her most intimate desires. But, sadly, it seems that in the end, just like the posters of President Duterte scattered across the film, the oppressive patriarchal system that is the root cause of her predicament is too pervasive for her to resist. The directorial decision to end the film in this manner makes its critical stance slightly confusing.

Third, Paulo’s character leaves much to be desired. At some point his character was a prude gentleman, in other scenes, he was a psychopath. Ultimately though, the film caricatures him as a complete monster who ran away from responsibility— this was how the film resolved his story arc. The unfortunate thing is that most of the film’s screentime (around 80%) was devoted to the (non)development of Paulo’s character.

Which leads me to Jane’s character arc that I felt was rushed and shortchanged. The film only gave Jane’s character ten (10) minutes or less from 1:35:00-1:45:00 to conclude her arc. The viewers only knew of Jane’s backstories at around the 1:09:00 mark during the monologue-esque scene inside the car. In short, we only had around fifteen (15) minutes or less to really focus on Jane’s character without Paulo on the equation. Also, for the most part, Jane’s character functioned as an underage fetish for the viewers. The film gave in to the viewers’ fantasy when the two characters finally consummated their tryst. The tryst or the rape scene (just like the dick scene) is pure fan service which has disturbing implications that the film did not even bother to process or resolve.

In summary, the biggest challenge of the film is that it ambitiously tried to narrate the two separate stories of Paulo and Jane, complete with their own backstories and supporting characters, which it hurriedly resolved within the film’s last thirty minutes. But because Paulo Avelino is the bigger artist, it had no choice but to spend most of its screentime on his character at the expense of Jane’s screentime, even though Paulo’s story has less relevance or impact to the film’s ultimate narrative intent which obviously should be about Jane as the titular “Fan Girl”.

Also, it is quite noticeable that the film devoted its first one hour to Jane’s captivity scenes inside the old villa which could give the impression that it was the highlight of the film. But as it turned out, it was not the case because at around the 1:09:00 mark, the viewers will tend to already completely forget what happened that night; particularly at that point when the film started to introduce Paulo and Jane’s backstories and other supporting characters which all happened within the film’s last thirty minutes more or less. In other words, the film tried to condense three story arcs (Jane’s captivity scene, Paulo’s arc and Jane’s arc) in its 1 hour and 40 minutes running time.

All in all, despite of the issues discussed above, the film is still entertaining, and truly worth-watching. The film’s daring theme coupled with strong screenplay and performances from Paulo Avelino and Charlie Dizon would prompt the audience to forget and forgive these issues. I could only wish that it will be accessible to more audiences through Netflix.  

To end, as argued by David Sorfa (2016), editor-in-chief of Film-Philosophy Journal, “cinema can do philosophy that is unique in its medium; and that film is not only capable of presenting extended thought experiment or illustrating philosophical concepts, but can be philosophy in itself.” Antoinette Jadaone’s Fan Girl is not only a medium but a philosophy-in-itself that wields power to provoke its viewers into deeper rumination of the pitfalls of our present dispensation—if only, it has made its cinematic intervention clearer and stronger.

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