In the 80’s, Roderick Paulate’s gay roles were a brand unto itself. In comedies like Binibining Tsuper-Man and Petrang Kabayo at Ang Pilyang Kuting, he played a version of the parlorista archetype that became so popular, it was easy to dismiss it as stereotypical. But it wasn’t as simple as we may remember. Paulate’s comedy was amazingly physical – he cranked his energy up to eleven; his body flipped and curled with every over-pronounced line – and he imbued the exaggerations with a deep sense of moral pride. He was an effeminate who kicked butt, a swishy but completely able action hero that snared audiences in droves – unheard of until then and still unmatched. The guy deserves a lifetime achievement award.
The treat of the new movie Ded Na Si Lolo is that it possesses that same edge-of-sanity bombast. Paulate’s parlorista persona – this time he’s a stage impersonator who makes an entrance at his father’s funeral in a red dress – is still a blast, especially since we’re seeing him in the fresh context of our post-politically correct times. He’s right at home in an ensemble of terrific actors, with Gina Alajar, Manilyn Reynes, Elizabeth Oropesa, and Dick Ysrael – playing siblings reunited by the death. They each bring their A-game, times ten. The film’s most memorable running gag is how each member passes out as a result of the emotional stress. Writer-Director Soxy Topacio has marshalled a loud, noisy, over-the-top picture, but grounds it with real humanity – a hysterical comedy as well as a hysterical drama.
The film is structured within the traditional Filipino rites of death, beginning with the news, to the days of the wake, to the burial, making room for necessary steps like preparing food for the guests and accounting surmounting costs, but mainly finding humor from the piles of superstitious practices. I bet, like me, you didn’t know there were so many. In one scene, Rainier Castillo hops from neighbors' door to door covered in soap suds and a towel, because he was forbidden from taking a bath in the house where the dead lay. The hottie teen plays the crush object of many gays, but there are other eye candies to behold, such as Dave Cervantes in a significant other role. Bellie, Cookie, Phil and Diego appear as lively trannies. There are more small parts, and practically everyone makes a mark.
I would like to see how international audiences would respond to the uniquely Filipino culture on display, and also if they could appreciate the heightened performances as a truthful depiction of the Filipino tendency to over-react and make a big deal out of everything. The film is a triumph of tone, and will prove to be a Filipino crowd-pleaser for years to come. There’s not much by way of character development, but it does offer an acute reflection of a family who must push themselves to exhaustion before they can find peace.