Led by the powerhouse performances of Joross Gamboa and Edgar Allan Guzman, Deadma Walking (Julius Alfonso, 2017) is a campy feast of a well-arched gag-laughter/tear-jerker that embraces its B-movie elements, producing a very original comedy classic.
Based on the 2016 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature winning screenplay, and hemmed by the directorial debut of Julius Alfonso, Deadma Walking follows the story of John (Joross Gamboa) who, upon learning his stage 4 diagnosis of cancer and with only 1-2 years to live, decides to fake his own death to bear witness to what his friends and family have to say about and give to him, leading to an overwhelming journey of love, appreciation and acceptance. With the help of his BFF for life, Mark (EA Guzman), the film follows the meticulously planned staging of John’s death, wake and funeral — all the drama, mischief, laughter and unexpected twists in between.
When a film is a witty reminder of Tim Robbins’ Dead Man Walking (1995) starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, you know you’re in for a cognizant laughing stock that would never feel cheap. And it didn’t. The greatest thing about Julius Alfonso’s Deadma Walking is, despite its spoof-elated, paradoxical impression, it never felt cheap. The depth of the film, down to its last, tiniest detail is so well thought out, that there wasn’t a missed opportunity for the film to deliver its intentions of an imitation-of-life approach. The film embraces its exaggerations and over-the-top antics led by its two protagonists who are as colorful as the rainbow amidst a grief-centric premise as heavy as the rain.
Deadma Walking is a gay film that didn’t use the “gay” element as a mere accessory; rather, it used it as its vehicle for the film to propel its narrative. Unlike other LGBT films whose queer element only reflects on its aesthetics (as if changing the sexuality of the movie’s characters would not make a single difference to the story), Deadma Walking embraces its queerness as it utilizes its gay elements to a more effective, sparkling story. It’s funny but never laughable; it’s touching but never cheesy. It’s a social commentary on how a friendship between two queer (and good-looking) men can blossom as a life-long, romance-free partnership without the malice of societal standardization, while tackling the human flaws it entails, including the hues of platonic love, trust and betrayal.
One of the highlights of the film is its visceral direction by Julius Alfonso. Every scene is a reflection of the director’s assertion and the screenplay’s intellect. The sharp wits and unabashed campiness of Cabahug’s script was delivered intellectually by Alfonso on screen. Let’s face it: this type of film could easily go trashy, but the production of gag laughs and heavy drama that the movie juggles is very much well-studied, and eventually well-delivered — thanks, in huge part, to the cinematic cleverness of its director.
EA Guzman is a firecracker. He is a complete breakthrough, almost as if the film was intentionally made to show off his brilliant comedic versatility and dramatic chops. A scene stealer, he manages to give a luminous performance in a film about death and grief, and it never felt condescending or strange to the theme. Joross Gamboa gave a generous performance of a meek, quieter role opposite to Guzman’s loudness, creating a very well-balanced dynamic between the two. Playing a subtler, more laid-back role without being underwhelming is a difficult one to do, and Gamboa nailed it to the tee. Their characters are distinguishable, layered, human and real, despite the material’s theatrical, over-the-top shebang. Dimples Romana’s gift for drama was smartly utilized for the film’s beautiful arch on its more serious, more somber undertone. Her character created a perfect foil to the film’s dual tone of comedy and drama, and she single-handedly created that shift that never felt awkward or forced.
As one of the only two MMFF 2017 entries to be Graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board, Deadma Walking is indeed a pleasant surprise, and it goes way deeper than the impression it makes at the onset. A powerhouse combination of talented actors, sharp screenplay and intelligent direction, the film is everything you could ask for: a good entertainment, and an even better filmmaking.