Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Dante Basco, Tirso Cruz, Darion Basco, Joy Bisco, Eddie Garcia, Gina Alajar, Bernadette Balagtas
Written by: Gene Cajayon, John Manal Castro
Directed by: Gene Cajayon
MPAA Rating: R for language
Language: English, Tagalog, Filipino, with English subtitles
Running Time: 88
Date: 05/18/2000
IMDB

The Debut (2001)

2 Stars (out of 4)

False Start

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the hardest parts of my job is seeing a movie like The Debut, perhaps the first ever Filipino-American film to open at a multiplex, and then to give it a negative review. I'd like to encourage more Filipino-Americans to make films and more multiplexes to show them. But they need to be better than this.

Directed by first-timer Gene Cajayon, The Debut, stumbles right out of the gate with an overexplained, overwritten scene describing Ben (Dante Basco) and his myriad of teenage problems. A blonde hottie comes on to him and invites him to a party, which happens to be the same night as his sister's (Bernadette Balagtas) birthday party. At the same time, Ben wants to go off to art school while his father (Tirso Cruz III) wishes him to study medicine.

Ben continually sighs and rolls his eyes at his ridiculously old-fashioned parents, traditional Filipinos who wish to follow all the old ways. Ben is even afraid to bring his white friends into his home.

Ben reluctantly goes to the party, meets a cute Filipino girl (Joy Bisco), then ditches the party to meet up with the blonde. The blonde gets drunk, her friends insult Ben, and he goes back to his sister's party. He begins to appreciate his heritage through the dancing and performing going on at the party (his white friends dig it too). He even has to fight a bully (Darion Basco, Dante's brother) to win his new girlfriend's favor.

The Debut does give us an interesting peek at Filipino culture and experiences, such as the decorations that seem to hang in every Filipino house (a friend of mine concurred that his family had the same chotchkes, including the giant wooden fork and spoon), and the fact that Filipinos love basketball but constantly complain about being too short.

Otherwise, the film is far too awkward to be anything special on its own. Basco seems unable to stop brooding long enough to develop any kind of character, and Cajayon provides dialogue for every little thing, including moments that perhaps should have been left silent. It's an amateur's mistake, assuming that audiences won't be able to follow his "complex" story unless he explains everything to us.

I imagine Filipinos will be thrilled to see their own faces and culture represented on screen for perhaps the first time. But unfortunately, the overall story has been borrowed from decades of white Hollywood carbon copies. I just hope viewers won't be satisfied with so little. If that's the case, maybe Cajayon -- or others like him -- will grow as filmmakers and begin to offer less fluffy and more challenging material.

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