In 1980's beloved Bona, directed by Lino Brocka, Nora Aunor was a witting slave for the two-bit macho actor she obsessed over, played by Philip Salvador. It was a story of unrequited love, but also a great power struggle. The new movie Booking is packaged by its makers as a gay Bona, as if the original wasn’t already gay in spirit and sensibility. Booking is literal in its transposition of the romantic premise, but misses out on the complexities of human behavior that made Bona a masterpiece.
Emilio Garcia is a gay talent manager pining over his own discovery (sexy Marco Morales), a bum who has no acting experience apart from occassional photo shoots. Few may remember that Garcia has played the exact same role before: In 2003's Mapanukso, he was the gay talent manager to Gerald Lauron, a macho dancer rising to become a star actor. If you’ve wondered how in the world Emilio Garcia, a former body pageant winner and sex object, has become, in one role after another, the patron gay martyr of our times, look back to the B-movie Mapanukso, and trace the path right up to last year's Dose and Eskandalo.
But if Mapanukso, like many showbiz insider tales, suffered from ludicrous fantasies about fame and fortune, Booking’s depiction of people on the outskirts of the limelight is grounded on prescient social realities, which makes it a better film and closer to third world pieces like Babae Sa Bubungang Lata. In the movie’s first half hour, Booking is an interesting peek into the mundane activities of a manager and his ward, minor players grasping at slivers of hope and opportunity. Even though the movie talks more than it shows, the facet of life it dramatizes is grungy and delicate enough to keep us watching. Writer-Director Joven Tan expressed the same subject in last year’s Paupahan. The dirty side of showbiz and desperation of wannabes was the best part of that movie; it’s also the best part here.
Unfortunately, Booking fails to follow through. It’s interested in “turn of events” more than believable character actions. When the actor decides to offer his body to his manager, the sex is generic titillation when we really would have benefited more from real emotions – the flickers of hesitation, submission, or elation. As it turns out, the movie’s agenda is to contribute yet another gay martyr in the dismal list of gay martyr movies, wherein the homosexual’s senseless demise is supposed to be the price of his pure love. I stopped buying any of its melodramatic manipulations halfway into the movie. Even the struggling actress (Mercedes Cabral, naked in many scenes) and her minor-aged brother (Charles Delgado, naked in one scene), both moonlighting as prostitutes, are prone to waxing poetic about their sorry states. There are welcome moments when the characters say something unexpected – such as when Cabral confronts Morales about whether he sleeps with his manager, or most anything that comes out of Anita Linda’s mouth, as Morales’ frank grandmother – but otherwise, everyone ends up as lifeless brainless pawns in the grand design of pity.