There’s a number of local films that tackle the exploitative nature of Philippine media ranging from Mike De Leon’s ‘Aliwan Paradise’ to Francis Xavier Pasion’s ‘Jay’ and probably a lot more that I’m not aware of. Director Jeffrey Hidalgo and screenwriter Dustin Celestino navigate this territory in the satirical ‘GENERAL ADMISSION’ with Jasmine Curtis-Smith and JC de Vera.
Curtis-Smith plays Katja, a popular dancer from the all-girl, sexy dance group ‘Daisy Ocho’ who suffers an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction connected to her menstrual flow on live television. The spectacle goes viral and becomes the hottest topic both online and on mainstream media outlets such as the television show Tsismis 24/7 and the radio and streaming show Blgar.
As Katja guests on Tsismis 24/7 to face the ire of the public and to explain her side, she is dragged into the machinations of the show’s host, played by Nanette Inventor, and the show’s director and producer to try to milk the event for all its mileage. When the response from the public is lukewarm at best and discussions of women’s issues take center stage, Inventor’s host and the producers drag Katja’s boyfriend Toto (played by JC de Vera), who happens to be in the audience, into the fray to bring it back to more drama-worthy and ratings-grabbing headlines.
The creative team behind ‘General Admission’ know well enough that Katja’s mishap is a non-issue and deftly begins its social criticism of today’s media industry and how they take this non-issue and blow it up by creating scandal through implications and half-truths.
This one event eventually blows out of proportion, digging up Toto’s sordid past (made of real-life tragic situations that happen to this day) and failed acting career, to unfounded and baseless assumptions that Katja may have had an abortion or even HIV rumours.
What the film brilliantly illustrates is the dirty tricks that the media isn’t afraid to play to create drama and grab ratings. What is an extra nice touch is how Curtis-Smith plays Katja as the only character who sees through the game and can’t believe what’s happening right in front of her. Her facial expression of both shock and disbelief and disgust is telegraphed for all to see. She is both the victim and sober witness to the mayhem.
Toto is not above using this as a jumping point to get publicity and jump start his career but when he suffers the eventual backlash as the story gets bigger, more outrageous, and farther and farther from the truth.even he’s given a wake up call.
A story like that of ‘General Admission’ is truly best serve as a madcap, absurdist satire and while the cast is up to the task — from the magnetic Curtis-Smith, de Vera on the third act, the hilarious Brian Sy and Angelina Kanapi, and the revelation that is Archie Adamos — Hidalgo’s direction keeps it from reaching the film’s full potential.
Comedy is all about timing and the film’s pace stops to allow a joke to settle before it moves on. It stays too long on a reaction shot to try and emphasize a punchline rather than moving the story along and this self-awareness undermines the humour that’s in the script. When too much attention is placed on the joke, it loses its impact.
At the same time, there’s a smallness to the world of ‘General Admission.’ As a social satire, the film needs to show us the overall effect of these scandalous rumors and lies on the everyday world. Instead, the film’s sense of time is stunted, piling and piling one new headline to the next that it feels like this whole story happens in the span of two or three days, if even. This is heightened by a predilection for awkward medium shots and close-ups that doesn’t allow the film’s story to expand outward to represent society as a whole.
It’s claustrophobic and not in a good way. The script doesn’t just attack media institutions’ unethical ways of covering stories for ratings but it also highlights our society’s need to consume these sorts of stories regardless if they are true or not. There’s a pointed attack here for our thirst for juicy gossip and scandalous stories but if the film just points its camera to the gossip and the effect it has on the people affected, it can’t make its boldest statements; and that’s how daily life neither benefits nor suffers with these stories. They distract us from real issues and the only people who get hurt are the subjects, who are people too.
But without the breadth of time and the lived-life of these characters, the full extent is just hinted at. It’s what makes the ending so strong. Katja, at her most vulnerable, the weight of the film’s events weighing down on her. It needed more of this to truly take the message home.