Ang Tag-Araw ni Twinkle opens with a violent encounter. A group of soldiers led by then-Colonel Cenon Payawan (Cris Villanueva) attacks an NPA camp deep in the wilderness. Among those killed is a rebel woman carrying a child in a sling. Payawan adopts the child, and eighteen years later, the now-retired general and his wife are dealing with her rebellion. Then, her biological father Ka Ruben (an admirably committed Arnold Reyes) suddenly shows up at their doorstep, claiming that he has cancer, and that his dying wish is to get to know his daughter.
The daughter, Twinkle (Ellen Adarna, who does pretty well for a newcomer), has fallen into a bad crowd. The first we see of the teenager is at a party, apparently in a contest with another girl to see who can snort the most cocaine the fastest. And here begins what will be a constant problem for the film: it doesn’t seem to have a very good grasp of the drug scene, or the effects of the particular drugs being taken, or the nature of addiction altogether. The entire story is made contingent on the recovery of the main character from drug addiction, but the film doesn’t do a very good job of depicting that particular addiction.
It doesn’t help at all that the circumstances of Twinkle landing in rehab feel really awkward. She’s ambushed by her parents outside the hospital room of her biological father, just minutes after meeting him for the first time. And at this point, her parents only suspect that she’s been taking drugs. Twinkle is then basically abducted by her parents, taken to a farm in Quezon against her will and subjected to the treatment. It’s an odd way to get there, the film just seemingly unable to come up with a more reasonable way for a character to make it to that point.
And for the film to focus so much on the addiction feels like a waste, since there’s so much more to explore on the other side of this story. There is no lack of rehab narratives in fiction and in cinema, but there aren’t a lot of stories about an NPA rebel emerging from decades of hiding to meet a daughter that was adopted by a man he considers his enemy. It’s a unique dramatic premise, but the film kind of lets it take a backseat to the tired story of this one teenage girl trying to kick a coke habit. On this side of the story, the film skims over much of the potential conflict. The only rockiness in these relationships happens at the very start, with Payawan trying to verify Ka Ruben’s story, and his wife getting into a bit of a shouting match. But after that, everything is accepted a little too quickly.
Despite all that, this side of the story does bring out a couple of interesting points. Though the politics are shaky at best, and the dialogue is a little awkwardly written, there is merit to the idea behind the meeting of these two soldiers. The film presents a unique perspective: ideological warriors now distanced from their struggles, able to really examine what they were fighting for. The conclusions are pat, but are interesting nonetheless.
But again, it’s all about Twinkle. The drama in the late acts is contrived from the appearance of someone from her personal life, who is not so much a character as he is a rolling collection of vices serving as a plot device. Ang Tag-Araw Ni Twinkle works best when it isn’t tut-tutting young people and their loud parties, lewd behavior and drug-taking. This is a world that appears to be really foreign to the filmmakers, and their lack of understanding oversimplifies the struggle. It has a better grasp of these aging warriors forced by human decency to co-exist for the sake of a child they share, looking back on a past of conflict, and finding little to be proud of. Maybe it should have stuck to that.