Shealea reacts to: Baka Bukas (2016) – a film review

Title: Baka Bukas
Director: Samantha Lee
Writer: Samantha Lee
Cast: Jasmine Curtis-Smith (Alex), Louise de los Reyes (Jess)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Year of release: 2016

* More about the film on IMDb and Facebook.
* Watch the official movie trailer.

Baka Bukas (Maybe Tomorrow) is a 2016 Cinema One Originals film* that tells about, in the words of its queer female director Samantha Lee, “what happens when you fall in love with your best friend”. Its main character is a 23-year-old lesbian named Alex, who is based in Manila and is every bit of a millennial as any individual can be. In the film, Alex is in love with her best friend Jess whom she initially did not reveal her sexuality to (while everyone else has been aware for quite some time). Due to a trick of circumstances, Jess uncovers Alex’s secret and from there, their relationship begins to evolve.

Brief rambling: I watched this a few days after I watched 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten (read my review!) because my Film 100 class required me to write a review for a Cinema One Originals film, and I wanted to have options. Eventually, I decided to review 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten partly because its setting takes place in Pampanga, which is where I’m from, and partly because its plot is significantly more complex than that of Baka Bukas. By the way, I have so much love for the UP Film Institute for screening these films at a very student-friendly price!

When I first watched the trailer, I was so hyped, fam! I was extremely excited to watch Baka Bukas because it promised a narrative most Filipinos still consider as taboo. The sad reality is that to this date, the Philippines remains to be largely homophobic because of its deeply rooted fixation with Catholicism. A lot of LGBT+ members are seen as odd spectacles, which is reflected through the manner in which they are typically represented in mainstream cinema (i.e. every movie Vice Ganda is in – I’m not even sorry). In addition to this, until now, many still equate being a lesbian to a woman trying to be masculine. But I digress.

While I did really like the overall film, I also found it to be slightly underwhelming, and a handful of its elements bothered me. But I’ll elaborate on those parts later on.

In my opinion, the success of Baka Bukas lies in, what I think are, its two greatest assets: the unparalleled visual aesthetics of its cinematography and Jasmine Curtis-Smith’s phenomenal acting ability in projecting Alex’s character into the big screen. Aside from these two, I’d say that the movie’s solid soundtrack adds to its overall appeal.

You know those ridiculously beautiful Instagram photos you try to convince yourself that you aren’t envious of? Basically, every shot in the film is like all those pretty Instagram filters coming to life. I am not even kidding. The camera angles, the fantastically vivid spectrum of colors, the freaking fairy lightseverything looks so unbelievably gorgeous and inhumanly magical I almost sobbed out of envy. My life seems so dull and monochromatic in comparison to all the ✨ aesthetics ✨, ✨ #ahrt ✨ and ✨ feed goals ✨ (yes, all the twinkle emojis are essential in emphasizing and validating my point) I found in the film.

Much like how gorgeous the footage is, Jasmine looks equally and consistently stunning as Alex. That girl has no bad angle at all! Plus, she exudes an air of inherent sophistication. However, the actress has quickly proven herself to be more than a pretty face with her strong performance. Her portrayal of Alex’s character is generally authentic and memorable, but it is during the quieter scenes and moments of stillness when Curtis-Smith’s acting prowess shined the brightest as she only had her facial expression and body language to rely on.

As much as I liked Alex (and the actress behind her character), I did not like her best friend and love interest, Jess. Sorry, but no. Her personality is pretty off-putting and too exaggerated for my taste. It does not really help that the actress playing Jess (Louise de los Reyes) occasionally over-performs her role, which adds an unnecessary cherry on top of all the “over the top”. There’s just something about Jess that rubbed off on me the wrong way.

But enough about whom I liked and whom I didn’t. Let’s talk about the crux of the matter: the narrative and the handling of LGBT+ representation in this film.

Honestly, despite how much I was enjoying the film as I watched it, I felt a slight unease that I couldn’t really fathom. At face value, Baka Bukas is a whimsically adorable film that can easily tug your heart strings. It was only when I got back to my dorm and contemplated which film to review for class (re: Baka Bukas vs. 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten) that I was able to identify the problems I had with the former.

Story-wise, Baka Bukas is not particularly substantial nor is the plot significantly intricate. In fact, the storyline is stretched pretty thinly, but even so, it fails to thoroughly explore the conflicts it introduces to the audience. Moreover, the plot does not have as much depth as I would have preferred, and the execution of said plot fails to fully develop certain elements that are essential to the narrative, such as the character relationships. I think the faulty execution lies in the film’s attempt to be a little bit of everything all at once, which ultimately fails as no aspect is presented profoundly, causing things to fall very flat. The same sentiment is highlighted in one of my fellow blogger’s critique of Baka Bukas (Andrea’s review) (Other remarkable reviews: Jethro Ian’s, doublesidedscotchtape’s).

Fair warning: The succeeding portion of this review will contain a number of mild spoilers. Proceed with caution, should you choose to continue reading.

However, what made me feel uneasy is not the lacking material in the plot. On the contrary, this is what bothered me: the gay relationship between Julo and David is portrayed more explicitly than the lesbian relationship between Alex and Jess. What do I mean? Specifically, there are scenes wherein Julo and David openly share kisses whereas Alex and Jess only get one kiss – and here’s the thing – the kiss happens in the dark and it is just a quick smack. There is also a scene wherein Alex makes out with a guy while she is drunk, and even that has proper lighting.

I’m not entirely sure what the intention behind this move is. I mean: is the kiss between Alex and Jess conservative and chaste for the aesthetic appeal (as they have the moment underneath the eerily lovely Manila skyline)? Or is it out of the fear that a more vividly intimate scene would make the audience feel far too uncomfortable? Is it out of the belief that Filipinos are relatively more open to gay relationships rather than two females being intimate?

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that I wasn’t a fan of how the film approached the idea of lesbian relationships. In fact, I don’t think I have any authority on LGBT+ representation and portrayal because the knowledge that I have is admittedly limited. I can’t really point out what’s right and what’s wrong, but what I can say is that I am not wholly satisfied with how Alex and Jess’ relationship was built, portrayed and eventually played out.

Nevertheless, I appreciated how Baka Bukas greatly deviates from the “tomboy” stereotype that’s automatically slapped on every lesbian. In this regard, I believe the film successfully broke a couple of barriers. Admittedly, the film industry has a very long way to go when it comes to properly handling LGBT+ representation, but Baka Bukas might just be a step towards the right direction, despite its flaws.

[ * Note: This film is a recipient of the Cinema One Originals 2016 Best Actress (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), Best Sound (Andrew Milallos), and Audience Choice awards. ]

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First of her name. Queen of lists and spreadsheets. Protector of books. Breaker of norms. Iskolar ng bayan.

9 thoughts on “Shealea reacts to: Baka Bukas (2016) – a film review”

  1. I have the same thoughts! I think the film wanted to talk about too much and wanted to tackle a lot of the issues and stereotypes surrounding the LGBT+ community that it just seemed too compressed and rushed. I also agree that Jasmine was great in this! And I especially liked the part where she mentioned something about how lesbians should supposedly dress when she and Jess were talking about her being a lesbian. As a very feminine lesbian, naka relate ako dun sa sinabi niya since a lot of people would always comment on how I look once they find out that I’m a lesbian.

    The film was shot beautifully but it lacks a lot of things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in my sentiments! Honestly, another thing that stopped me from writing my paper on this film was that the LGBT+ representation and messages were obviously central to its entirety, and as someone who doesn’t personally identify as a lesbian, I was scared that I might have ended up offending people with my (admittedly unreliable) 2 cents. Knowing that you also found similar flaws is a huge relief, really.

      But yes! I really like the obvious intention to burn down the whole “women trying to act and dress like men” stereotype when it comes to lesbians. It’s definitely a long overdue message we needed to hear, especially in media. And I’m glad that it resonated in you. Sana this film becomes a takeoff point succeeding filmmakers can learn from in order to produce better quality, more sensitive, and more inclusive films about and for the LGBT+ community. 😊💕

      (Btw, I just checked out your blog. Ten years of blogging? You’re my new icon. HAHAHA.)

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Ah yes, that I agree with. It’s hard to find other PH bloggers with content that I actually like reading (not trying to be a snob or anything pero, you know, okay, nvm hahaha). And yey, thanks!! I like your content, too. And your book and movie reviews are so in-depth and detailed, they put mine to shame. Hahahaha

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I get where you’re coming from naman. I’m pretty selective with content that I want to see on my feed, so following another person’s blog feels like a big commitment. 😂 Also, if I’m being honest, I prefer English content so that’s a factor, too — although I’m not trying to be pretentious or anything, English is just easier for me to understand and appreciate, given the environment I was raised in. I’m striving to develop a better appreciation for Filipino languages, but my progress is gradual.

              And huhu, thanks so much! ❤️ I’d kill to do more creative writing pieces or thought pieces like yours, but I’m ridiculously slow when it comes to writing that sort of content.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Saaaaame! I can’t fully appreciate our own language. It’s such a shame but it is what it is. Besides, how can one appreciate this language when shows like Bagani exists???? 😒😂

                You should definitely try!! I feel like you’d be great at it. ☺️


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