CinemaOne Review: Emmanuel dela Cruz's SLUMBER PARTY is Pleasurable Yet Disconcerting

Emmanuel dela Cruz's Slumber Party is a film of undeniable charms. It revels in color. It delights in diversity. It sustains with mainstreamed queer wit, the type that makes use of self-referential humor for much of the laughter earned. The brand of comedy is of course a staple in the Philippines, where there is an abundance of gay entertainers who mine their experiences with intolerance for everybody's humor. Fortunately, Slumber Party does not limit itself to the stereotypical inanity of its more commercial kin. It attempts to offer the mainstream it seduces with its approachable wit and comedy a slice of homosexual reality in the country.

Perhaps Dela Cruz's most masterful stroke here is to cast popular straight actors as his film's tri-beki, the trio of gay friends who find themselves both captors and guardians of a fraternity initiate they caught invading into their yearly Miss Universe vigil. Trusting first, his ability to mold his actors (commercial model RK Bagatsing, singer Markki Stroem, and comedian Archie Alemania) into homosexuals with nary a hint of falseness, and second, his actors' untested capability to melt into the written characters, Dela Cruz adds a cinematic sheen to the exercise instead of relying on overused realism. He infuses a certain feeling that everything, despite the excellent performance of his cast, all a play, a deliberately engineered romp, a piece of entertainment.

The script, written by dela Cruz alongside gay rights advocates Philippe Salvador Palmos and Troy Espiritu, is a patchwork of inspired ideas and convenient contrivances. It struggles to make every light-hearted moment deep and relevant, pumping each hilarious scene with heavy-handed revelations involving nearly every current queer dilemma and issue. However, the film works best when its celebration is unburdened. There is enough humanity in the characters' interactions with each other to excuse it from the need to spell out its intentions in a needlessly clear and obvious manner. In turn, Slumber Party becomes overlong, chatty, and bewilderingly redundant.

The very danger of straying from mere entertainment into the territory of advocacy is that every skit, every joke, and every plot point become more open to scrutiny. A film that begs for acceptance cannot take lightly affairs and experiences that are obnoxious as they are and can only be deemed acceptable given more sober and solemn circumstances. The story of Slumber Party already takes many liberties with mainstream sensitivities, given the fact that it essentially revolves around a straight man being denied his freedom by likable homosexuals who are written to commit dastardly deeds draped as comedy.

Dela Cruz and his scribes' most glaring misstep is to turn an act of sexual assault against the captured straight man into a boisterous act of hilarity that becomes completely forgotten in pursuit of the film's lofty objectives. Whatever charms and understanding earned are eventually betrayed by a scene that uncomfortably feels very wrong, most especially since its wrongness can easily be glossed over because it is staged for laughs. Slumber Party is a pleasure for the forgiving. It is disconcerting for the rest. It earns as much as it conveniently wastes away.

(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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