Jaime Oscar M. Salazar
At the outset, Slumber Party (2012) establishes a situation that is not especially objectionable, and certainly contains within it the potential to be entertaining. On the eve of the Miss Universe pageant, which within the realm of the film coincides with a hostage crisis, Phi (RK Bagatsing) organizes a slumber party with Jhana (Archie Alemania), and Elle (Markki Stroem) to mark the occasion, as they have apparently not gotten together as a group since graduating from college. What looks set to be a night of companionable bitching and campy fun is interrupted when Jonel (Sef Cadayona), seeking to prove his worthiness to be admitted into a fraternity composed of neighborhood toughs, intrudes into Phi’s house in order to rob it.
The burly Jhana foils Jonel by knocking him unconscious, after which the frustrated burglar is tied to a chair with computer cables and muzzled with what appears to be a pair of frilly underwear. In spite of Elle’s initial protests, Phi, with the enthusiastic consent of Jhana, decides against turning Jonel over to the authorities, instead suggesting that showing the interloper hospitality and kindness for the duration of the night would make for a better lesson against committing crime than a jail stay. The fact that, generally, a suspect thrown behind bars would have neither been bound nor gagged occurs to exactly no one.
From here on, what could have been an interesting and enjoyable exploration of the dynamics of friendship between men who identify as bakla degenerates into a heated rivalry over the attractive trespasser, interspersed with bouts of collaborative toying with the same: Jonel is reduced to the status of a thing for the trio to compete over and amuse themselves with, his thoughts and feelings of little account as his captors subject him to assorted forms of humiliation. The only way to make sense of the affection that slowly develops between Jonel and Phi, therefore, is as a manifestation of Stockholm syndrome.
The maltreatment turns shocking when Jhana, taking advantage of the absence of his friends, forces himself upon Jonel. This act of sexual assault, presented as a joke and then glossed over for the remainder of the reel, is easily the nadir of Slumber Party. As if one portrayal of abuse were not sufficient, however, the film sees Elle attempting a similar, if less invasive, deed early the next morning, though he is aggressively thwarted by his would-be victim. Whatever monstrous sensibility was at work in the concoction of these scenes should not just have been left asleep; it should have been slaughtered.
Presuming that one could bracket out these utterly offensive moments of exploitation, the film still has little to recommend it. Apart from being bloated with hysterical melodrama and strained gags, it deals with the distressing realities of gay life using a hand that is at once despicably heavy and unbearably light: while it contrives conditions where the experiences of loneliness, self-loathing, and discrimination can be introduced, it never explores these with care or fluency, though two of its screenwriters, namely Troy Espiritu and Phillippe Salvador Palmos, are gay advocates. Even HIV—an urgent issue that, it must be emphasized, everyone, no matter what gender or sexual orientation, has to attend to—is treated with disgraceful superficiality in order to elicit a cheap titter or two.
That Slumber Party is referred to as a comedy at all points up a lamentable destitution in how the term is understood in these parts: it is not enough, and indeed, it will never be enough, for a work to involve rapid-fire barb-trading, slapstick antics, an apparently happy ending, and, particularly in the case of the present object of scrutiny, ostensibly straight male actors adopting what they believe to be the distinguishing behavioral traits of the bakla—insert the usual (and questionable) professions of “certified” masculinity, performatory difficulty, extensive research, and increased understanding of and admiration for gay men here—although there may well be a farcical aspect to the continued popularity and monetary success of such productions.
The absurdity is underscored several times over when one is reminded that the Emmanuel dela Cruz–directed feature not only closed the Cinema One Originals Festival this year—it was an entry in last year’s edition—but also had a brief commercial run with an R-13 rating from the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), a classification that, according to the latest Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the regulatory agency, applies to films that do not “gratuitously promote or encourage any dangerous, violent, discriminatory, or otherwise offensive behavior or attitude”. In what way, one wonders, does the representation of rape—here defined as forcing another to submit to a sex act against his or her will—as funny, unleavened by any trace of irony or self-awareness, fail to promote or encourage violence, sexual or otherwise?
None of the foregoing is to suggest that comedy is in any way obliged to comfort, to console, or even to provoke raucous laughter, or that it should avoid certain topics completely—some of the best examples in the genre are notable precisely because of how they are able to simultaneously amuse and disturb in their handling of challenging or taboo themes. The crucial ingredients in such literary, theatrical, and filmic texts are sensitivity and intelligence, of which Slumber Party exhibits an appalling and deplorable lack.
Much like Zombadings I: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (2011), its sister film from Origin8 Media, Slumber Party may have laudable aspirations, but these are everywhere undermined and ultimately defeated by the effeminophobic and homophobic assumptions from which it proceeds; notwithstanding the claim of Dela Cruz that his film proffers “a chance not to laugh at gay characters but to laugh with them, to enter their world with lesser judgment and preconceptions”, Slumber Party merely reinforces and fortifies the ghettoes, both within and without cinema, to which the bakla has long been condemned to exist.
To those interlocutors who will aver that Slumber Party ought not to be taken this seriously, there is nothing to say. For better or for worse, the right to freedom of expression necessarily embraces the license to be vacuous.