Lilay: Darling of the Crowd ends with the strangely self-aggrandizing coda "for the Filipino." It's easy enough to see the good intentions that lie behind the production of the film. The film tries its darnedest to warm hearts with a story about a kindhearted underdog trying his best to do some good in an inherently unjust world. But good intentions only get you so far. At some point, the film has to tell some kind of story; but all this film could deliver were stock situations played out by indistinct characters. While I'm sure that the people behind the film are all good people, there's no getting around how awful the film really is.
Lilay (Kenjie Garcia) is a gay hunchback living in a small space with his older sister and nephew. When Lilay isn't working or helping out other people, he dreams of a life better than the one he has. In his fantasies, he is not deformed, and he is having romantic encounters with various young men. But back in the real world, not everyone takes kindly to Lilay's inherent goodness, and this eventually puts him in a dangerous situation.
It’s always difficult to gauge intention. I like to assume the best of people, and I see Lilay as an attempt to celebrate the goodness inherent in some people, all the while chiding those who would do harm to someone simply for their physical appearance. It’s a good and valid sentiment, but the film isn’t very good at getting its messages across. It isn’t even very good at telling its story. The narrative keeps getting sidetracked as the film plunges headlong into Lilay’s sexual fantasies. There, all thought of storytelling is pushed aside for the requisite sequence of two men making amorous advances towards each other. Eventually, Lilay is snapped out of it, and the story continues as if nothing had happened. There is a place in cinema for sexual content, but one would hope that they could at least be integrated into the story. Here they are extraneous asides, throwing naked bodies on screen without the context to make them mean anything.
But even if you excise all these inessential sexual asides, the film still doesn’t have much of a story to tell. Practically all of the dramatic action happens in the last few minutes. The rest of the film feels like filler, with stuff happening but nothing mattering. The film might start to make a big deal, for example, of the nephew’s increasingly bad behavior. But all of this bad behavior is met with zero consequence, the nephew magically transforming in the last act. And when the movie does get going, it hurls itself headlong into melodrama, suddenly rushing to provide the scenes with any sort of drama. They stuff so much tragedy into the last act that the only reaction possible is laughter. Bad acting further weakens the film’s case. Kenjie Garcia wears the main character’s disfigurement with a glaring lack of personality. Joyce Mortel and Joseph Paolo Henri are so wooden and unnatural in their roles that they might as well be cardboard cutouts.
The promotional materials for Lilay: Darling of the Crowd promise a heartwarming tale. To be honest, the film is unwatchable at best, and insulting at worst. Let’s not even dwell on the fact that the sound is awful or that Lilay’s hump keeps changing positions throughout the picture. Whatever technical inadequacies the film might have are immediately trumped by its inability to tell a story. I don’t know the true story that inspired the film, but I am confident in saying that they didn’t do justice to the real people involved. They are reduced to indistinct personalities, playing second fiddle to the requisite parade of naked bodies.