Sunday, October 20, 2013

ANG TURKEY MAN AY PABO RIN (Randolph Longjas, 2013)

Don't laugh, don't gag, or maybe you should, but I sat through Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin with my prejudicial notions of a lowbrow film, and came away with a serviceable smile at the end. The film's got the surface of comedy all right, but the trajectory is one of both fantasy and reality, the better to keep us on tenterhooks. Yet what comes to the fore, in the final reckoning, are the ricochets of all its spoken details -- the whole seemingly made to subordinate to its parts (its paroles) -- teased out with a fine-toothed comb for what they are comically worth and how they finally cohere into a repeatable picture of a not-so-uncommon reality: our unique relationship and transaction with the American White through language and logos.

Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin begins with a frantic search for a turkey, to be cooked and made ready for an American-style Thanksgiving Day on Filipino soil. The searcher is a twenty-something Filipina (named Cookie Bigoy) who, along with her trusty best friends, crisscrosses the city to purchase this relatively uncommon variety of poultry in order to surprise her new American husband (named Matthew Adams). The couple are depicted as a success story: poster children for an online site revealingly called KanoLovesPinay. com. It’s not, however, what one might cynically think. While a lot gets lost in the cultural and linguistic translation, this is no one-way street, not a marriage of convenience for either side: the couple seem to genuinely take pains to meet halfway as they adjust to one another’s cultural idiosyncracies and language barriers. 

But will it all be enough? Will the marriage of miscegenation work out? Many an utterance here lays, piece by piece, a brick on the wall of sound dividing the couple. Every instance of verbal communication between them represents an everyday (mis)adventure: transliterations, homonyms and multifarious puns, idiomatic malapropisms, even twang and diction, among other linguistic pitfalls, become an occasion to confound the couple, and translate to comical recognition for us with a dramatic -- or rather, comic -- irony that we so cherish. Even when the American seems to be catching on to the quirks of the Tagalog tongue: his wife unwittingly springs the trilingual trap on him (the average local is uniquely trilingual, of course). The Filipino, it bears observing, switches signs and codes almost unconsciously to the consternation of the foreigner.

That's what's at the tip of the tongue. Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin sustains a steady stream of consciousness, a laugh-a-minute pace for much of its duration. The Filipina at the center is not glibly alone: she has an equally uproarious set of friends and an equally uproarious set of parents, who among other things, display their inability to memorize the foreigner’s name, while spouting their supernatural superstitions.The Filipina's brother, meanwhile, has traded his jeepney for a career in rapping while curiously resenting the American and his sincere overtures of friendship.

Longjas' film, however, can sometimes be a mixed bag of new and hackeneyed hilarities, all too ready with its scatter-shot approach to comedy, so that even the lisp, that hoary old trope of comicality, gets another insufferable ventilation here. (Didn’t we just suffer through another stuttering character in Purok 7?) But side by side with another comedy watched on the same day, Bingoleras, Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin seemingly has few comedic pauses. That might be a dubious sign – its over-eagerness  to please -- but in hindsight the crude mixture is the kind of chatter one encounters day after day. Just as one says that, the film mixes tones, switches gears and takes on the touch of the serious -- when the Filipina presents herself at the American Embassy to get a much-coveted visa, a passport to Pennsylvania and a much-cherished anticipation of snow. 

With a scenario negotiating interpersonal and interracial relationships, the onus is on enunciation and acting, and both its leads, Tuesday Vargas and Travis Kraft, come up aces. Vargas, for one, has expressive diction which, coupled with rubbery facial expressions honed on tv and in stand-up routines, seems all but second nature. Kraft is no slouch either, he may have the seeming package of a Superman but he has the comic prerequisite, the much-mocked and much-imitated, iconic twang. Both come across with upstanding personalities for roles that entail wholesomeness (squeaky-clean, albeit already conditioned by American-ness by the time the film opens). Together, they pull off a genuine couple, despite their disparate backgrounds: the American, a white-collar professional, and the Filipina, a deboner of milkfish, with a son by another man. Somehow, key to bridging the linguistic chasm remains, paradoxically, true understanding. Watch, and yes, listen, to see and hear why.


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