Bagets (with a B) was a movie phenomenon that defined the youth culture of the country in the 80's. The word is slang for "youth" and is still widely used today. The new title Vhagets, a corruption of the term to sound gayspeak, suggests we need a movie that will be as definitive to kids today who are growing up gay.
In 2005, Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros) introduced us to a feminine adolescent boy who lives in the slums. Maxi was an instantly iconic character, and, depending on where you live, was also instantly familiar. There are quite a number of boys his age who dress and act like him. It was about time we saw him on the screen. What few people may remember though is that Ang Pagdadalaga never really addressed Maxi's homosexuality or transgender as an issue. (His family and community generally accepted his ways.) That movie was an otherwise traditional story of romance versus family, cops versus robbers. It skipped the part about the usual specific fears, pains, and confusions connected to gay identity -- the internal aspect of being gay at 13.
The new movie Vhagets fills that gap -- somehow. Three adolescent friends survive individual dillemas that spring directly from their being gay. One fears coming out to his father; another is beaten up by his; the third gets constantly nagged by his mother for his girly behavior. All of them are taunted by bullies their age. Their stories whiz by with lightfooted comic panache, especially in the first half, that the movie is mostly funny and fun even as it tugs at deep hurts surely recognizable to many of us. Vhagets is the stylistic reverse of Ang Pagdadalaga: The former documentary-like neorealism gets replaced by broader comedy, subjective narration, hyperbolic fantasy sequences.
There's a lot going on in Vhagets, for better or worse. It's hard to see the integrity amidst the storytelling shortcuts. As it turns out, the movie is really centered on one gay old man whose house is like a refuge for the troubled boys. SPOILERS AHEAD!!! His murder, which the boys witness, acts as the miraculous solution to banish all issues between parents and their gay sons. There are speechy expositions here and there, a dash of how domestic anti-gay violence is passed on to generations, how repressed gay emotions can lead to crimes of passion, and of course, a schoolboy crush who's so close yet so far to touch.
Alas, the best reason to watch Vhagets is Jordan Herrera. The hunk plays "pantasya ng mga bakla" (gay men's fantasy), and he fits the bill perfectly. We first see him sweaty playing basketball, then with drinking water assaulting his full lips and cascading down his body. He's a force of sex throughout, even by just the simple act of walking in jeans, but most especially when he's showering in his black briefs and when near-naked in bed. The only other scene to rival any of Jordan Herrera's appearances is an opening number in which four guys in briefs and shorts bathe themselves on the street, in full view of our three young heroes and the old gay man up in his house.
The conclusion should have had a little more balls. After all that is done, our boys grow up to the realization that they're more men than real men. ("Mas lalaki pa.") I rather wish they had advanced to eschew the language of machismo, which is to say in their own terms and not in society's imposition that the best values are necessarily masculine. It kind of dillutes everything back to zero.