AAAFF Review: Fan Girl
Filipino drama dissects the Faustian pact of idol culture
By Richard Whittaker,
6:33PM, Fri. Jun. 4, 2021
They say "never meet your idols," and that may go double when you're talking about a literal idol: the hyper-manufactured celebrities that have become a constant in East Asian pop culture.
Paulo Avelino has undoubtedly had a run-in or two with the starmaker system, having cut his teeth on Filipino talent and variety shows as a clean-cut teen, then balancing pop music and acting careers. So he's probably had a run-in or two with overenthusiastic fans, which brings an unexpected air of veracity to Fan Girl, in which he plays a fictionalized and far-from-glossy version of himself. From the instant that he waves goodbye to screaming fans at yet another mall promotional show, blasting death metal and using his fame to charm police officers, he's clearly not who schoolgirl supermegatotalfan number one Jane (Charlie Dizon) thought he was when she decided to hide in the back of his truck.
What was she thinking? The archetypical half-formed romantic idea that, if somehow she could just get near him, some kind of hearts and flowers would happen. She is, after all, 16, and her secretive hitchhike cannot end well, even after Paul's initial fury at her intrusion abates, and her lets her stay the night at his rundown rural retreat - not out of empathy, but because there's no bus until the morning.
It's hard to say how much of the real Avelino is in Antoinette Jadaone's emotionally grueling exploration of the toxic sheen of celebrity. He undoubtedly shows a vulnerability here, but the on-screen Avilono is more than just a sad boy with a fancy car: he is dysfunctional, disassociated, lonely, brutish, and ultimately unsure whether he hates or loves his gilded cage. Yet Fan Girl is really Jane's story, and Dizon captures how she is painfully disabused of all her teenage dreams. Her increasingly ugly realizations about who Avelino really is - flawed and fucked up - are given multiple levels by the cinematography of Neil Daza, who balances reality with gossamer fantasy, and adds layers in between that make the dissection of power and powerlessness all the more incisive. After all, Fan Girl isn't a woe-is-me moment for Avelino, but a pointed critique of both a celebrity system that locks stars and fans in untenable roles, and also of the broader misogyny within Filipino culture. If this is how even the most beatified of men treat women who have been channeled into adoring them, Jadaone coolly implies, what does that say about everyone else?
Fan Girl is available as part of Austin Asian American Film Festival's virtual programming June 4-6.
Austin Asian American Film Festival runs June 4-20. Tickets and info at aaafilmfest.org.