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REVIEW: ‘I Am Not Big Bird’ is playful, but still emotionally flaccid 

Lé Baltar

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REVIEW: ‘I Am Not Big Bird’ is playful, but still emotionally flaccid 
Contrary to the library of Vivamax movies, 'I Am Not Big Bird' actually knows how to talk about sex

Spoilers ahead.

When one takes a look at the place of sex in the current makeup of local cinema, one will discover that it figures mostly in Vivamax, the local streaming platform churning out movies that are 90% sex and 10% storyline — the “New Bomba,” as some might point out. It’s a haven for original Filipino content, only that content demands a lot more substance and discerning hold of the craft. Raunchy but emotionally flat, Vivamax movies chiefly disappoint because they often overlook how fun sex can get, failing to explore its intimacy and richness, and merely present it as nothing but a requirement to satisfy a quota for explicit scenes.

Here lies the advantage of I Am Not Big Bird, the latest film directed by Victor Villanueva, best known for Patay na si Hesus, for how it leans on its absurd and phallic humor, and it’s exciting to see this kind of work with mainstream backing. 

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At the center of the sausage fest is Luis Carpio (Enrique Gil, in his comeback project), whose lack of confidence, mainly due to his dick being under the average size, has cost him his relationship with longtime partner Cathy (Ashley Rivera). Left dejected, he shows up to a night out with his friends (Red Ollero and Nikko Natividad), whom he rarely hangs out with, inviting them to a trip to Thailand shouldering all expenses. 

So off they go to Thailand, with Luis, or “Carps” to his friends, hoping to become the “bigger man,” whatever that means. The trio, who are seeking to enjoy their vacation, meet Prajak Tithi (Pepe Herrera), the suspicious tourist guide, and later discover that Carps is a doppelganger of Big Bird (also played by Gil), a porn star known for his massive cock, who has gone missing. Although it takes a while before the film gets to this detail, it is loads of fun to see how the Thai public conflictingly reacts to seeing Big Bird again, depicting how the porn actor has set insane criteria for what being masculine means.

Contrary to the library of Vivamax movies, I Am Not Big Bird actually knows how to talk about sex. Despite its outlandish approach, it doesn’t steep itself in awkward thrusting and grunting by awkward actors caught in awkward positions. And the film works best when it is gooning and being silly. Prime example of which is when the three friends, after outrunning a bevy of people tailing them, figure in a heated argument, without their pants on. Alongside porn producers and drug dealers hunting Big Bird, there’s also the club entertainer ejecting bananas out of her vagina. At one point, Big Bird’s dangly schlong is even used as a handshake. And, hello, a drug-induced Ganesha? But out of all its gimmicks, I particularly find the brief reference to Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus so intelligent because of its specificity.

And seeing Gil this relaxed and outside of his usual love team roles is pretty refreshing, and the film makes the right decision by privileging his chemistry with Ollero and Natividad and just allowing them to have a good time. Gil still has it, and it seems like his comeback can be much bigger, given that he lands the right project and works with producers or writers, who can actually think of better ways to harness his talent.

For all its slapstick comedy, I Am Not Big Bird still ushers some insights about sex as a natural need (or even adventure), sex as a source of exploitation, censorship, and how ridiculous sex standards breed a culture of toxic masculinity.

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But the material falters when it turns earnest and begins to explain its point, especially in the third act, where it loses its steam. Carps’s sudden realization about how he treats his pals and ex-girlfriend, with a whole montage dedicated to it, doesn’t quite land, precisely because we don’t know much about these relationships to warrant such an emotional pivot.

Tied to this problem is the film’s overall pacing. At the start, there is so much lingering in ways that feel so touristy, populated by drone shots of Thailand that could have been trimmed, before the storyline moves forward, only to rush some plot points in the final act, as if trying to search for something that can stand in for narrative dimension. Of course, it’s alright to be messy, considering what the film hopes to penetrate, but it won’t work at the expense of coherence. And despite the texture of ‘90s-era comedy that the film guns for, it’s apparent that some visual choices demand more polishing. 

I Am Not Big Bird is strongest when it forgoes being serious and hinges on its absurdity, the very detail that it could have harnessed further. It’s way more fun when it commits to being unapologetic, instead of pushing for an emotional note that ends up so flaccid, ultimately failing to climax. The good thing, though, is at least it’s not your typical Vivamax movie, which is notorious for being bad — and not even enjoyably bad. –

I Am Not Big Bird is now out in local cinemas.

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Lé Baltar

Lé Baltar is a Manila-based freelance journalist and film critic for Rappler. Currently serving as secretary of the Society of Filipino Film Reviewers (SFFR), Lé has also written for CNN Philippines Life, PhilSTAR Life, VICE Asia, Young STAR Philippines, among other publications. She is a fellow of the first QCinema International Film Festival Critics Lab.