“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness,” Leo Tolstoy once wrote.
Obviously, Julius Alfonso wasn’t inspired by Tolstoy in his latest film. There is more elegance and quiet wisdom in the very few words conjured by the Russian author than the nearly two hours of monotonous juvenile meanness that is Black Lipstick.
Black Lipstick finds its roots in comics.
In the early 80’s, Elena Patron tickled the imagination of the masses when she churned out Blusang Itim, which tells the story of an unsightly woman who transforms to enchant the man she adores whenever she wears a magical black blouse. Following the slew of popular comics turned into film, Blusang Itim was turned into a film directed by Emmanuel Borlaza with Snooky Serna playing the lead role and Richard Gomez as her object of affection. Borlaza’s film was then turned into a television series, with its righteous plot that lectures on true beauty transformed into a convoluted and overly extended mess to suit the demands of network executives.
Black Lipstick attempts to reclaim the simple charms of Patron’s work, focusing mainly again on the dilemmas of a girl who becomes beholden to magic to become beautiful.
Alfonso’s film only differentiates itself from the previous reiterations of Blusang Itim with its insistence on situating the narrative specifically within the confines of a school with the whims and attitudes of millennials as its bid for some sort of novelty. This is a film with teenagers who are chronically beholden to social media, easily swayed by online influencers, and quick to torment with the use of their cellphones.
The conceit of appropriating Patron’s fairy tale to serve as a cautionary tale for a generation obsessed with the visuals of social media is actually clever. Sadly, Alfonso’s update is more cosmetic than profound. Black Lipstick is thoroughly old-fashioned. It is as current as Friendster.
Muddled and confused
What’s worse is because of the very shallow upgrade, Black Lipstick becomes muddled and confused. Sure, it bemoans shallow beauty. However, it also finds itself entangled in its even shallower depiction of a generation. It stubbornly relies on cliches and filters from its characters (who are already stereotypes by virtue of their comic book roots) any sliver of personality.
The film lacks focus. It is a hodgepodge of many things.
While at its core, it still diligently follows the story of Ikay (Kyline Alcantara) who makes use of the magical lipstick to turn into a popular vlogger, it gets distracted by so many other concerns that are pertinent to films that depict young people who are broadly representative of millennials. It tackles bullying, suicide, and the dangers of social media alongside its childish romance, making it seem like its appreciation of the more glaring concerns of youth is hollow and coming from a mindset that refuses to understand the generation it wants to portray. It relies solely on presumptions.
Black Lipstick is far from the delight it wants to be. It is even farther from the timely parable it wants to attach its formulaic storyline to.
Duller and drearier
Alfonso’s make-over of Blusang Itim is so laden with missteps that it ends up duller and drearier. It is so deprived of verve and vibrancy, that not even its meanest bits can salvage it from redundancy. — Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ Tirad Pass.
Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.