iWant review: 'Beauty Queens' shows the glamorous and gaudy side of pageants

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jul 18 2020 06:01 AM | Updated as of Jul 18 2020 09:00 AM

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Ever since the American occupation, the Philippines has an undying fascination, if not outright obsession, for beauty pageants. There was always a beauty contest held in every school, parish, barangay, town, city, and province for its special days. Before, there were only pageants for single young women. Later, there would be pageants for all ages and status of females, as well as gays, transgender and even males. 

The passion was further fanned by the success of the Philippines in international beauty pageants. This wave of success happened from the 1960s to the 1970s, with the likes of Gloria Diaz and Margarita Moran winning Miss Universe, and Gemma Cruz, Aurora Pijuan and Melanie Marquez winning Miss International. This winning streak was revived in the past 10 years, with Megan Young copping the first Miss World crown for the country, and Pia Wurtzbach and Catriona Gray bringing home the Miss Universe crown after a long drought. 

"Beauty Queens," the new iWant series directed by Joel Lamangan, capitalizes on this national preoccupation among Filipinos and brings us into the lives of a family who had lived a multi-generational tradition of beauty and glamour, and drama. 

Former Miss Universe Mrs. Dahlia Rodriguez-de Veyra was preparing for an intimate family dinner party to celebrate the centennial birthday of her mother Tarsila Zamora Rodriguez, the last Manila Carnival Queen crowned in 1939. Dahlia wished this occasion would reconnect her with her three children who all had past issues with her. Her eldest daughter Daisy became a nun against her wishes. Her second daughter Tingting was now separated from her husband. Her youngest son Rico has become a transgender woman named Rica. 

Our country's first Miss Universe winner in 1969 Gloria Diaz headlines this new mini-series playing Dahlia. Like Diaz, Dahlia won her Miss Universe title also in 1969 and married a much older millionaire who was the president of Metro Manila University. Diaz was given a character who is not easy to like -- so overbearing, demanding, scornful, petulant and hot-headed. Her opinion about the Miss International pageant, among other things, was hilariously tactless. Diaz is clearly having a good time playing this flawed character. 

For further authenticity, the actresses playing her two daughters are also beauty queens themselves. Maxine Medina, Bb. Pilipinas- Universe 2016, played the eldest child Daisy. Her full story had already been told in Episode 3. Wynwyn Marquez, Reina Hispanoamericana 2017, played the seemingly well-adjusted middle child Tingting. Theater actor Ross Pesigan played the flamboyant and indignant youngest son Rico. Their backstories will likely be featured in the next episodes. 

Since the stories told involved many years, the production used different filters to delineate the timeline. The story of Tarsila from 1939 into the 1950s were rendered in sepia. Played by Maris Racal, Tarsila was a miserable trophy wife of an abusive ambitious politician played by Rafa Siguion Reyna -- a typical trope of Filipino melodrama. The story of young Dahlia from 1969 into the '80s was rendered in scratchy faded colors, with special bright red highlights (like the sportscar or the jewelry box). For Dahlia's Miss Universe victory moment, Nella Marie Dizon was styled exactly as how Miss Diaz was styled in her actual pageant.

The behavior of the family during the dinner party are fraught with over-the-top antics (lascivious necking right at the dinner table) and unrealistic dramatic fireworks (forcing someone to change into a ballgown in front of everybody). 

These exaggerated conflicts were conjured up to shock and discomfit the viewer, and they work in that sense. Ever since soap operas like "Wildflower" made these wild parties of the rich and famous practically standard TV fare, Filipino audiences have enjoyed to lap these contrived scandals up. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."