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USD $1 ₱ 57.20 -0.2320 April 18, 2024
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MOVIE REVIEW: ‘I Am Not Big Bird’ is bold as it tries to push the boundaries, but it isn’t bold enough

As something new and different, ‘I Am Not Big Bird’ was poised to really turn heads, start conversations, and really break boundaries. But they played it safe. They got the laughs, for sure, the people in the theater with me were laughing at all the gags, shocked at “the audacity of it.”

Advertised as a raunchy sex comedy, ‘I Am Not Big Bird’ is pretty progressive in scope and vision. It’s a period piece (set sometime in the mid 2000s, pre-smart phone era) that stars a returning Enrique Gil (without his popular love team) in comedy that is set almost entirely in Thailand and is all about sex and genitalia. It’s been said over and over: this is so new to the Philippine film landscape and it’s refreshing. While a large majority of the country can still be very conservative (and even downright oppressive) in their views on sex, the new generations are more open about it (just check social media). It’s the perfect time for a comedy like this to stir the pot and push some boundaries and trigger some pearl clutching.

But as the movie unfolds – it’s the story of Luis Carpio (Gil), whose marriage proposal is rejected by his girlfriend of five years (because he hasn’t had sex with her as he is waiting for marriage) flies off to Thailand with his two friends for a chance to be “a bigger man,” as according to a random flyer that was handed out to him – the film is a lot tamer than I was expecting it to be. This is coming from director Victor Villanueva, who directed the excellently done ‘Patay na si Hesus’ as well as ‘Boy Bastos’ and ‘Lucid.’ Tonally, ‘Patay na si Hesus’ was way more outragous and provocative than ‘I Am Not Big Bird’ is, and it was not even revolving around sex. What creates this tempered outrageousness is its straddling its risqué elements with mass appeal. You can tell they want to push the lines but not cross it so they can keep the rating low and not raise too many eyebrows.

Case in point, the main dramatic premise of the film is that Luis, called Carps by his friends, looks exactly like the porn star known as Big Bird. Big Bird has a huge penis. It’s astronomically huge as we are shown this in the film’s prologue on a sex tape from Japan. So, humorously, the size is indicated via how much is pixelated in the video. An impression is created, the joke is set. But then the film never goes beyond this after the prologue. The three friends, which includes standup comedian Red Ollero as July and Nikko Natividad as Macky, have their first night at a seedy club. They are taken to a back room so that they can have sex with some of the hostesses there, but the film suddenly enters into an advisory that the scene is “too sexy for Filipino audiences” and goes to describe what happens in the cut scene with sound effects and a dub to amplify the humor. And then after we see the effect it had on our characters.

The film is fixated on the size of Big Bird’s penis (and the subsequent jokes of Luis, who ironically has a tiny one) and pushes the characters to do risque things. The many hijinks that follow from being mistaken for this porn star leads to kidnapping, to the possibilities of castration, and so on. The friends get high on psychedelic substances and, in one scene, have to try and make a porno and other such strange happenings. It’s all for laughs and I’m all for it – I just wished they allowed us to really get the full-on unsanitized comedy that this dramatic situation allows.

We don’t actually see them smoke or ingest the drugs. We don’t see too much skin (until much later, and it’s not from Enrique Gil, the main character of the film). It never gets dirty or grimy or full-on offensive the way that it teases us that it will. At least, in the presentation of Macky as a gay character, he actually gets to kiss another guy and they get almost naked and almost have sex. It’s where I thought this film would go but that’s the spiciest the film ever gets. There’s a scene where Gil has to kiss Deborah (Wipawee Charoenpura), a porn producer who is chasing after Big Bird, but as their faces come closer together, they change the angle of their heads, and we don’t actually see the kiss; just the impression of it.

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It’s this sanitized tone that hinders this film from reaching its true heights and from really pushing boundaries. Yes, they say penis a lot and show us the huge bulge in full display in other scenes but it’s always just that: covered up and sanitized. 

And for all the joking around about male genitalia and the like, the film does a sneak attack and suddenly turns to transform this film into a story about male friendships but the most important aspect of the friendship is not what the film is focused on either. Luis only shows up when he needs something and isn’t privy to the goings-on of his two friends. But this is only told and never shown. And while Macky’s story is at least given a scene, July’s back story isn’t even that developed. So, when the film tries to subvert the film’s comedy by surprising us with the story of the friendship, it feels forced and rather hollow.

What I do appreciate, though, is the friendship that is shown with Macky and July. If there’s anything to applaud, it’s the unproblematic friendship between a straight guy and a gay guy. The way the film just allows July and Macky to be good friends and not have their different gender preferences get in the way of anything is just so pleasant to see onscreen. I would have given everything to see more of this, and the fac that Luis wasn’t even aware. That is an important element of the story that doesn’t feel like it was given attention to.

As something new and different, ‘I Am Not Big Bird’ was poised to really turn heads, start conversations, and really break boundaries. But they played it safe. They got the laughs, for sure, the people in the theater with me were laughing at all the gags, shocked at “the audacity of it.” But this is the era of tv shows like ‘Euphoria’ and ‘Saltburn.’ Just a decade ago, ‘Game of Thrones’ was doing more shocking things about sex and nudity that hadn’t been done before. It’s a bold move for this movie to go in this direction, but it wasn’t bold enough. I would have liked it to go all-out.

My Rating:


I Am Not Big Bird is now showing. Check screening times and buy tickets here.

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