Drag queens are cinema's instant exotic subjects, looking especially so when cooped together in one vehicle, such as in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and To Wong Foo: Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. Philippines' The Thank You Girls holds up well against these iconic cult favorites, looking a shade more exotic because it's third-world: The girls are in a jeepney, sometimes on top of it, en route to a gay beauty contest, and they're traveling amidst the lush green mountains of Mindanao. It's mesmerizing.
The surprise of the movie is that the visuals are only half the fun. The true delight is verbal. The girls while their hours with acerbic banter in native Dabawenyo gayspeak, but often, they spar back and forth with questions and answers as if constantly rehearsing for the competition. In flashbacks, we see them in actual gigs, flaunting not so much their costumes but their flairy speech. What the film captures is not simply gayspeak, but "beau-con (beauty-contest) speak": correct-sounding English sentences processed like hollow pep truisms. It's madly funny. They come off as send-ups of artificial good will: it doesn't have to make sense, it just has to sound good.
Charliebebs Gohetia, a writer and editor making his directorial debut, finds a rhythm that matches his subject: energetic and unrelenting, but also a bit disorienting and mysterious. He turns the predictable road trip structure into a pulsating jagged box. His creative cutting makes up for the parts of the film that seem as poor as what the budget probably allowed. It's a shame we never get a wider view of the contests, depriving us of the audience that the girls are supposedly showing themselves off for. I also wish the dialogue floated above the noise, rather than wallowed in the grungy ultrarealistic soup mix.
It's another surprise how memorable the characters become. One is a kleptomaniac, another a talentless guitar hero wannabe, one obsessed with a famous actress, and another who wants to prove Moslems like her can be gay too. The sentimental heart is a father-son relationship, both of them gay, approaching the rope-end of their frustrations. The girls are perennial pageant losers (the title comes from the polite bid of adieu to cue non-winners to step offstage) and they're playing for chump change. Even though these dolls constantly wear their negativities like a badge, they're always engaging, ultimately lovable dreamers. That's some achievement.
The Thank You Girls are played by Gie Salonga, July Jimenez, EJ Pantujan, Kit Poliquit, Kim Vergara, and Pidot Villocino as Mommy Paola.