quick note: fan girl (2020)

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Manila, 27 December—This year’s Metro Manila Film Festival entries can be streamed on online platform Upstream.PH until Jan. 7—I think it’s an interesting platform with a lot of promise! Pay for your tickets via GCash or Credit Card—I was able to use my PayMaya under the CC option! Sana lang hindi magamit masyado nung boksingerong tatakbong pangulo sa 2022 for publicity!—hala siya di nakapagpigil lol.

Spoilers after the trailer

Anyway, we chose to go with Antonette Jadaone’s Fan Girl, which (the trailer says) is a movie about a sixteen-year-old high school student who goes the extra mile (literally) for her heartthrob idol.

Show-stopper Charlie Dizon plays Jane, whose obsession with her idol Paulo Avelino (who plays himself in this movie) leads her to sneak into Paulo’s truck after a mall show with Bea Alonzo promoting their movie “If We Fall In Love” (which, I just found out, was a totally made up movie, I had to google—it even had its own post on Kapamilya Online World in July 2019 sksksksk I’m so. Ang galing??)

The movie quickly veers into creepy territory when Jane wakes up that night, still in the back of the truck, which has now been parked in front of an abandoned house in the middle of the woods. She gets out carefully, sees a vision of her idol Paulo “inviting” her in.

The gate is rusty, chained close, padlocked. The house is practically a Shake, Rattle, and Roll shooting venue. Was this actually a horror movie which we had originally (erroneously) thought to be a darkly funny, severely self-aware celeb AU?

Only one way to find out. Jane scales the gate (as any fan would, I guess), and lands on the ground. The lawn is overgrown. Still, she approaches the house. This is definitely a horror movie, I think. We’ll be spending the next hour and a half screaming at the lead to not keep going into the woods and/or opening closed doors.

Which we actually do. It’s a tense watch. She enters the house, which is in obvious disrepair. There are no lights, save for candles; no furniture, save for the old sofas and chairs lying around. Is Paulo even here, we wonder. This looks like a Magandang Gabi Bayan ep. The house is huge—one of those once-elegant provincial mansions, since abandoned. Jane takes a look around and finds Paulo finally—shirtless with his back to her, a tattoo of a naked woman on it. His hair is out of the once-neat ponytail, and he’s obviously doing drugs.

Jane makes a noise, which prompts Paulo to turn around, startled to find he is not alone. Jane runs (as she should! There’s a man doing drugs in an abandoned house in the middle of god knows where, and she’s just been seen!). Paulo gives chase. She scales the gate; he catches up with her and grabs an ankle (jfc). Retaliating, she shakes him off just long enough to get over the gate, smacks Paulo in the face for good measure, before running whilst crying into the pitch-black woods in the middle of the night.

From which she re-emerges not so long after. There is no escape. She climbs back into the truck, goes for another joy ride with Paulo to buy cigarettes, and on the way back she is discovered, whimpering. This is how people end up murdered, I think. Paulo commands her to get out of the truck. She begs for him not to leave her in the middle of nowhere. I’m your biggest fan, she declares. Paulo quizzes her in response: Birthday? First teleserye? To which she answers, Saang network po?

Charlie Dizon as Jane is stunning and relatable—we root for her, we worry for her, and we want her to get the fuck out of there. But Paulo’s unhinged charismatic portrayal here is—well, definitely familiar. Convinced of her ‘devotion’ Paulo invites her into his truck, this time as a passenger. They talk some more. Despite how utterly dangerous and creepy the entire situation is, Jane is still strangely enamored—it’s so unsettling and uncomfortable. She keeps fantasizing and projecting romance where there is none—when Paulo dresses her wounds, or when they dance drunkenly around the living room. She actively imagines trappings of a fairy tale and superimposes these on the dreary, decrepit setting that they’re actually in. This is technically a kidnapping, I think. This is a trauma response.

It only gets creepier as the movie continues: Paulo asks her how old she is; in response, she preens and says, “Hindi na po ako bata.” She’s sixteen. We are terrified for her, laughing awkwardly at the jokes and the expletive-laced banter. Foul-mouthed Paulo keeps cursing; Jane takes it as a privilege, like he’s showing her the “real” him.

Jane goes to sleep in one of the rooms—the bed is nothing but a hardwood frame. She fantasizes about her first time with Paulo: All slow and romantic and mellow, fuzzy around the edges. When she wakes up in the middle of the night and decides to check in on him, she finds herself in yet another rude awakening: There Paulo is, fucking some woman on the floor. In the middle of nowhere. In the middle of the night.

The next morning, on the way to the bus station, they drive past a tricycle on the side of the road. Behind the wheel, Paulo goes berserk. He’s mad at something that escapes Jane. Eventually, he admits that the woman is actually his lover, and the son is his. She is from the town. She is married. More importantly: She was the woman he was having sex with earlier.

They stop at the side of the road, have a bit of heart-to-heart that feels more like a two-person monologue than an actual conversation. Jane reveals trouble from home—a father who left her mother for a new family. An abusive stepfather in his stead. Paulo confesses missing his mother’s last breath because of taping.

Jane says she does not want to go home yet, they turn back around and go back to the house. They cry some more at the poolside—the water is dirty from being unattended to for so long. The house really has all the fixtures of a rich house—napabayaan lang talaga. What a metaphor!

In a completely impulsive show of drama, Jane jumps into dirty pool water, which soaks her school uniform. Paulo gets her out of it and offers her his shirt and a towel. We enter the final stretch of the movie; we are holding our breath.

The sex is hard, brutal, quiet. This is sex with a minor. This is a crime. There is none of the romance here that Jane had once fantasized about. It is over too soon. Paulo literally fucks her over. When she wakes, it’s to Paulo yelling on the phone. She asks him what’s the matter, attempting affection. Of course, Paulo shrugs her off, and asks her to go buy some food. What do you like, she asks. Whatever you want, Paulo replies, annoyed. She gives him heart-eyes. Remember what you said, about putting the woman’s wants ahead of yours? You said that’s how you know it’s love.

Definitely a trauma response. While walking to the store, Jane sees the tricycle on the way to the mansion. It is driven by the woman; the passenger is their son. Jane, in a fit of jealousy, runs back to the house. When she scales the gate, she finds their son outside, playing with his truck. Jane rushes inside the house, and finds Paulo and the woman fighting.

I waited for you for three years, the woman is saying. I’m sick and tired of your promises. Foul-mouthed Paulo, also full of promises he couldn’t keep. The fight ends eventually with him hitting the woman, despite Jane running interference.

Then Paulo comes for the kid.

It’s a fucking double kidnap, I think. What the fuck is this movie. He takes the woman’s son—their son, he claims—asks Jane to put him over the gate, and leaves the crying, injured mother behind. Jane holds the child in the front seat as she continues to plead with Paulo to think things through. Paulo keeps yelling, keeps driving, keeps cursing though he doesn’t really know where he’s heading. He can’t think straight. He never has.

After passing the woman’s house, Jane makes a decision: She opens the door and tumbles out, child in hand. She cradles him on the pavement—a-la Pietà, reminiscent of that iconic shot from July 2016—as they watch Paulo drive away and escape.

Eventually, Jane gets on a bus and finds her way home. They live in a tenement building, still peppered with Duterte posters, three years after 2016. Her mother’s current boyfriend Benjo is there, commenting on her looks, and how disheveled she is, how disgusting. He is verbally abusive. She approaches the bed and finds her younger brother asleep—a child, just like the one she rescued earlier.

The movie ends open-endedly, with Jane calling the police. Another story for another time.

So what is the movie about? Is it merely a ‘never meet your heroes’ kind of story? At first, it did seem that way, but the more C and I talked about it, the more it became a very layered take on blind fanaticism, the hollowness of celebrity, and the moral decay of once-esteemed institutions. Much like real life, the helplessness was real as we could do nothing but watch and wait for Jane to finally come to her senses. This is a coming of age story in the time of Duterte: Gritty and cruel, like this regime.

A checklist for your Paulo-Duts parallels, in no particular order:

✅ Frighteningly charming and able to command crowd of crazed fanatics
✅ Flouts laws but is let off the hook every single time because he is who he is
✅ Cursing is mistaken for ‘real talk’ charm
✅ Isolates those he claims he cares for
✅ Is idolized and adored for doing the bare minimum
✅ Nothing but promises
✅ Drugs
✅ Snatches sons from mothers
✅ No sense of accountability
✅ Hung up on a dead mom
✅ Hates his job

Not the celeb AU I signed up for, true—but in the end, it was so much more. Feels like a solid kick in the chest—a much-needed one, at that.

Related readings

  • Philbert Dy’s review of Fan Girl on Letterboxd

  • Emil Hofileña’s review of Fan Girl on Letterboxd

  • Not about Fan Girl, but about an idol as well, so perhaps a relevant tangent: Who Did JK Rowling become? via The Cut

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