'Fan Girl': Film Review | Tokyo 2020

Fan Girl
Epicmedia Productions Inc., Project 8 corner San Joaquin Projects

'Fan Girl'

A bold look at fandom rings true.

An obsessed teenage girl spends an unforgettable night with her idol Paulo Avelino in Antoinette Jadaone’s Filipino drama.

Antoinette Jadaone’s Fan Girl, bowing in the Tokyo Film Festival, dives far deeper into the psyche of its titular teenage heroine than most films about obsessed fans, groupies and hangers-on. The rawness with which the story develops and its far from happy conclusions stand out in the career of Jadaone, who is one of the top romance film directors in the Philippines (Alone/Together, Never Not Love You). Here her view of reality may be too adult and graphic for her regular audiences, but it’s a film that could be well appreciated on the international festival circuit.

Also remarkable is the decisiveness with which Filipino star Paulo Avelino, who plays himself, puts his name and body on the line. Though the character he plays comes across as fictional, the role involves male frontal nudity and various degrees of misbehavior that could be a cold shower (or perhaps titillating) to his rom-com fans. It is nonetheless an engaging if volatile performance, and most of the audience will side with him rather than with his perversely invasive fan.

Another question that arises is whether the Avelino character isn’t playing with fire when things get hot with a 16-year-old schoolgirl in uniform. He may dismiss the swooning fan as a “kid”, but to Western eyes she looks a lot like jailbait. But note that in the Philippines, the legal age of sexual consent has traditionally been 12 (though it’s on the verge of being raised to 16 by new legislation).

In a fizzy opener, real-life stars Avelino and Bea Alonzo, who make romance movies together, appear in a shopping mall to promote their new film. In front of them is a screaming mob of teenage girls, including high schooler Jane (her name is only revealed late in the film, however; for most of it she’s nameless). Seeing her chance after the show, she stows away in the back of Paulo’s pickup truck and hides under a tarp with a mad giggle.

Paulo drives off unawares into the countryside until after dark he reaches an abandoned villa behind a locked gate. He climbs over the gate and enters the house, followed at a distance by the excited/scared girl. It’s a suspenseful scene that raises multiple expectations. Among other things, Jane has been snapping selfies and pics of her hero, including a very candid view of him peeing by the side of the highway.

When Paulo finds her roaming around, he’s stripped to the waist and taking drags on a joint. Welcomed with a hostile “who the fuck are you!” she bursts into tears, protesting she’s his number 1 fan. She alternates between “sorry, sir” and insisting she’s no longer a kid. He lets her stay the night.

Played with great naturalness by Charlie Dizon, Jane initially comes across as a bird-brain victimized by her own fantasies. The first part of the film plays out almost as comedy, with Jane as the stalker and Paulo as her victim. With a creepy grin, she tiptoes up and films him sleeping. But the balance of power between the two keeps shifting. He offers her her first beer, which she throws up on the floor, and weed which she refuses. A romantic bedroom scene is not far away… or is it all Jane’s dream? Because when she wakes up, there are unmistakable noises downstairs indicating that Paulo has company.

In a tritely overwritten pour-out-your-heart scene, Jane and Paulo confess their inner fears and unhappiness, but mainly to themselves since they’re not listening to each other. It’s a clever screenplay and would remain just that, but things eventually take a serious turn.

The final scenes reveal an ugly side to the star and bring the fan girl back to reality. But when we see what her reality is — a tough neighborhood wreathed in poverty, her mother submitting to abuse from a violent boyfriend, no love for Jane at all — we’re almost sorry the bubble has burst and her escapist fantasies are over forever. As the saying goes, beware of asking the gods for favors; you might get what you wish for.

Venue: Tokyo International Film Festival
Production companies: Project 8, Epicmedia, Potocol, with Black Sheep, Globe Studios
Cast: Charlie Dizon, Paulo Avelino, Sheenly Gener
Director, screenwriter: Antoinette Jadaone
Producers: Bianca Balbuena-Liew, Dan Villegas
Executive producers: Carlo Katigbak, Olivia M. Lamasan, Quark Henares, Han Ching, Bianca Balbuena, Dan Villegas, Antoinette Jadaone, Paulo Avelino
Director of photography: Neil Daza
Production designer: Ferdi Abuel
Editor: Benjamin Tolentino
Music: Teresa Barrozo
100 minutes