"Pinanood namin ang 'Die Beautiful' kasi bakla, kaya akala namin masaya."
This was one taxi driver’s lament regarding the Paolo Ballesteros-starrer.
It is a stereotype that the film tries to break, and does a creditable, though not always successful, job of doing so. Gay people are people, and so feel the whole range of emotions that anyone else does, too—they are not simply comedians or dancers, or oddities to be placed on a shelf to be gawked at.
Directed by Jun Robles Lana, and written by Lana and Rody Vera, "Die Beautiful" tackles the story of Trisha Echevarria, a transgender woman who dies just as she wins a beauty contest, and the people around her who fulfill her request of being made to look like a different celebrity for the seven days of her wake.
Told through flashbacks of Trisha's life during her wake at a funeral parlor, the film shows the struggles of gays and transgender women in Filipino society, and their attempts to break out of the shell that has been placed around them.
While having its own weaknesses, "Die Beautiful" is a good stepping stone towards making the usually judgmental Filipino public more accepting of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, with attempts to humanize gays and transgender women, and make their struggles seem less "other" to straight-laced Filipino audiences.
The sleek narrative, polished production, hilarious jokes and excellent acting, especially by Ballesteros, powered "Die Beautiful" throughout its 120-minute running time. The characters made you want to be part of their posse—their passion for life, and their staunch friendship were enviable, and Ballesteros's award-winning portrayal of a woman strong and good-humored enough to overcome her circumstances was inspiring.
The moments between a Trisha and her daughter Shirley Mae were particularly golden.
However, "Die Beautiful" still falls into the stereotype trap—stereotypes of gay men or transgender women are shown, such as the overly made-up beauty queen, the aging singleton with lots of boyfriends, and there is not always an attempt to make them more than two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs.
Even a joke about butch lesbians, though made with enough candor and good humor to pass, seemed odd in a queer film.
While beauty contestants are shown to be professionals who train hard to entertain, and the singleton is actually seeking someone to care for him in old age the only way he knows how, some remain just as they are—the beauty parlor owner who steals Trisha’s boyfriend lives up to the stereotype of the “malanding parlorista” (flirty stylist), the aging gay man embraces the typical vision of them as desperate old flakes who crave attention and will do anything to get it.
Men are not portrayed well, either. Trisha's boyfriends all turn out to be "gago" (bastards), as she says in one scene, and her father remains a terrible person who never shows an ounce of caring for her even when she dies. Even her adopted daughter's good-looking boyfriend is less than ideal—he gets Shirley Mae pregnant out of wedlock, while they are both at a young age.
When it seems that one man in Trisha's life breaks the picture of men as evil, he turns out to be an awful person, after all.
This is a contrast to the women that Trisha and her friends come in contact with—they are kind-hearted, or redeem themselves in the end.
There are also many storylines that are left unresolved. What happened to Trisha's pregnant daughter? Does she indeed learn from her mother's love, and get over her resentment to want to raise her own child the way Trisha would have?
How did she become close to the wife of a former lover? She attended Trisha's wake despite not having had an actual moment to connect with each other.
Then again, with the wide range of issues that "Die Beautiful" tries to tackle, it might take a three-hour filmstravaganza to successfully resolve all of them.
What is important is that Trisha’s life and struggles were shown, and they were shown well—it might merit another viewing just to get another look at the brilliant cameo performances of Iza Calzado and Eugene Domingo.