The frequently frustrating lives of Filipino drag queens come into the limelight as a troupe of queer pageant beauties travels on a talking bus (Andrew Caisido) and strut their intricately coiffed selves before a largely unseen audience of gawkers, admirers and sexual fence sitters from Davao City to Cagayan.
The “girls” come in two main categories: gay men who love taping their privates close (“Wrap your dicks, no peeking out,” they are advised) then parading in a frock and transgendered (in varying degrees) whose idea of pill popping involves estrogen tablets. Like their colleagues in India (cross-reference below), the bevy of beauties is whittled down to 10 semi-finalists (following the mandatory strut—allegedly representing the countries of the world, a talent display and a character-revealing question from the host/hostess).
There are cash prizes for the winners but more importantly the next Queen of queens will score huge in the self-esteem department, conquering inner fears and—with several of the scorned—making their families proud of their unexpected daughters and in one case, “proving there are gay Muslims.”
Director/writer Charliebebs Gohetia has a fun premise, but can’t ramp it up into anything more than a pleasant curiosity. Using a bus, employing many rooftop scenes and waving the inevitable trains of fabric only serves to remind viewers just how good a film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was.
The engaging cast, notably E.J. Pantujan as Chris (a.k.a. Miss Argentina) and his semi-adoptive Dad/Mom, Mommy Paola (Pidot Villocino) carry much of the show as the former tries to win a pageant and keep his give-away member under control between shows while the latter searches, finds and tries to rekindle the love of his live, Carlos (Ari Bancale) who never let marriage spoil his regular trysts on the side. For his/her part, Allyson (Jeff Salonga) still pines for Adora Gracia (Joan Mae Soco)—the girl he taught how to put on a condom finally turns up as Emcee for the “Queen of the Third Kind 2008” competition only to be knocked for a loop by her ex’s shapely transition from manly stud to femme extra-fatale.
Gohetia tries to balance the perpetual losers’ story with a few serious moments (“We’re not doing what we want to do.”) but, like the largely invisible crowds and surprisingly bland natural scenery (so odd in a country of such spectacular beauty—perhaps he didn’t want his girls to suffer in comparison), coats his film with too much vanilla for subject matter that has, potentially, unlimited flavours.
Still, the tracks are fun and the editing (replete with second takes of pivotal scenes from different angles) is snappy so—especially for the man-in-a-dress neophytes (from any religion or creed)—this production is an easy point-of-entry into freedom of expression for boys who love being girls. JWR