Die Beautiful is ... Beautiful

Die Beautiful (2016)

Rated R-13: For Sensitive Themes, Strong Language, and Violence

Running Time: 2 hours (120 minutes)

Genre/s: Comedy, Drama

Released on December 25, 2016 (PH Release Date; Limited Release Only)

Presented by Octobertrain Films, The IdeaFirst Company, and Regal Entertainment

Writers: Rody Vera and Jun Robles Lana

Director: Jun Robles Lana


  • Paolo Ballesteros as Trisha Echevarria / Patrick
  • Christian Bables as Barbs
  • Joel Torre as Papa
  • Gladys Reyes as Beth

“The road to beauty is ugly”, and that is a path explored in all of its grim glory in the 2016 tragicomedy film Die Beautiful.

Every year, the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) comes around Christmas Time to showcase the best of Filipino cinema, and back in 2016, audiences were treated to some of the festival’s best movie selections so far. Though I only got to see one movie at that time, the overall response from audiences and critics were enough for me to consider this as a high point for the event.

Among these films was the critically lauded Die Beautiful. Written and directed by Jun Robles Lana, the movie starred actor and social media sensation Paulo Ballesteros, who is renowned for his make-up impersonations of various artists, alongside Christian Bables, Joel Torre, and Gladys Reyes among others. Many praised the movie’s serious exploration of mature subject matter, and was also a box office success domestically and internationally. Its success lead to it being accepted as an entry to the biennial Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF), where it won the Audience Award.

As the title of this review implies, I have almost nothing but great words to say, with an emphasis on “almost.”

In the film, transgender Filipina Trisha Echevarria played by Ballesteros (My Bebe Love) struggles to achieve success by participating in beauty contests, all the while struggling to adjust to a society that widely shuns her for who she is. With her best friend Barbs, played by Bables (Signal Rock), Trisha also has to deal with issues such as family and her own personal demons.

Die Beautiful, for me, is more than just a film about understanding sexuality and the struggles that follow after coming into terms with it. I see this also as a “character study”. Like any good character study, we get to see the strengths and weaknesses of our main protagonist in full detail. We see how much of a human being Trisha Echevarria is.

All throughout her life, Trisha, then known as “Patrick”, has faced persecution from a lot of people that he encountered, from her father, played by Joel Torre (Jaqueline Comes Home), disapproving her sexuality, to her high school crush Migs, played by Albie Casino (Rainbow’s Sunset) being a jerk. Thanks to Ballesteros’ amazing, jaw-dropping performance that lead to him gaining so many accolades, we see Trisha as this human who has been tormented for so long that she has since become quite unsure on what would truly satisfy her.

Like most films that I have watched, I have had my fair share of doubts prior to watching it, as I initially expected it to be a by-the-numbers, overly preachy movie that is trying so hard to push an agenda down my throat. My skepticism was immediately put to rest when I finally began to notice what the film is really trying to emphasize: her flaws. 

It might be easy to sympathize with Trisha after piecing together everything that she has been through, but the film constantly reminds us that, like each and every one of us, Trisha is just a human being. She might just be a person looking for acceptance and love, and can be ambitious and loving at times, but Trisha can also be ignorant, impulsive, and inconsiderate that she does not see the ugliness that lies in his pursuit for beauty.

She can be ignorant that she is willing to place all of her efforts on gimmicks over memorizing Q and A questions in desperate attempts to garner praise, even though that portion of the competitions is the most essential in winning.

She can be impulsive, especially when love is key. So much, that she is willing to fall in love and start a relationship with Miko, played by a male prostitute that she has barely gotten to know, or to blindly fall prey to whatever sinister desires her crush has in store.

She can be inconsiderate, even to the feelings of her adoptive daughter Shirley Mae, with her younger version played by Faye Alhambra (Barcelona: A Love Untold), and her older self played by Inah de Belen (Crazy Beautiful You), whom she forces to participate in beauty contests in later years.

Above all else, she is insecure. So much that even fate wouldn't let her answer the question that she most desires: the one asking about who would she want to be if she were reborn. Trisha does get that chance though, but only once she finally gains a sense of who she really needs to be: "nobody but herself."

The reason as to why I love these flaws is that none of them in any way destroy Trisha’s character, but instead each help make her a much more relatable, more realistic person. Each of them is a weakness that Trisha has to overcome, and each of them help define her stronger character straits just a little bit more. Die Beautiful makes it explicitly clear again and again that Trisha might not be a perfect person, but she is a very relatable one.
The film follows three distinct periods in Trisha’s life: her adolescence, her adulthood, and her eventual death. What makes this character study all the more intriguing than its in-depth analysis of the protagonist is the usage of a non-linear narrative over a more straightforward path. Its more mysterious approach does help keep moviegoers who are not keen on the drama aspect of the film excited and pondering as to what might happen next, and the alternating narratives also provides even more of an emotional impact to events that have only been briefly explored in earlier scenes.

In addition to the story at hand, there are plenty of other highlights from this film, and that includes the funny and heartwarming portrayal of Christian Bables as Trisha’s best friend Barbs. For his performance, he won Best Supporting Actor, and also gains two awards, much like his opposite lead.

Even for their brief appearances, Joel Torre and Gladys Reyes as Trisha’s father and sister Beth, respectively, also add some more emotional beats into the film. Case in point, Trisha’s reunion with Beth at a bakery, discussing about what has transpired over the many years that she left from their home, as well as the viewable deleted scene wherein Trisha’s father and Beth, with an armada of police officers, come to retrieve Trisha’s body, only to be swayed by Barbs. It really is sad that that scene was omitted from the final product, though it does feel out of place from the overall story.

I also have to highlight this one flashback when Trisha, heartbroken after the discovery that her new-found love is not that devoted after all, converses with Shirley Mae about love, to which Shirley Mae responds that Trisha only fell in love with the man is because Trisha believes that no one else will love her. Shirley Mae then tells Trisha that, as she understands love from the way Trisha cares for her all these years, Trisha deserves true love and happiness, and that she will find it soon. Thanks to Ballesteros and a simple and sweet performance from Faye Alhambara, I honestly almost teared-up when I watched it the second time, because it really is just a moving scene that showcases the family dynamic between the two characters.

Though the second act becomes somewhat slower, I was nevertheless engaged all throughout, and I found myself wholeheartedly enjoying it … up until the third act, at least.

To clarify, I don’t mean that the film became terrible the moment we started reaching the end, but there are certain elements that made the falling action a little bit faulty.

Though the trailer makes it look like that this is a wholesome, family-friendly comedy, it really isn't. The film is heavily laden with sexually-charged dialogue, complete with abundant references to private parts that could be funny at some points, but could sometimes be overly repetitive.

There is also this one scene wherein a younger Trisha was forcefully raped by Migs and his friends which might be disturbing enough to get a certain point across, but also feels lengthy to the point that it could be trimmed down a bit. Again, I was honestly appalled when I saw that scene, especially with the somewhat more lighthearted moments that came prior, and I do believe that it did help raise some points about society's cruelty, but as I've said, the aftermath or the build-up could have been enough for me.

Then, there is this one character ...

After breaking-up with her former lover, Trisha comes across Jesse, played by Luis Alandy (Citizen Jake). After having a sweet and romantic encounter at a bar, they proceed to engage in an extramarital affair, even though Trisha is fully aware that Jesse is a married man. She nevertheless continues the relationship for six months because she enjoys the feeling of finally meeting someone who genuinely has feelings for her.

On the day after their sixth month anniversary, Jesse’s wife Diana, played by Jade Lopez (A Thief, A Kid, and A Killer) visits Trisha to inform her that Jesse is at a hospital, and wishes to talk to her before dying from leukemia. There, Trisha discovers that Jesse was among the people who gang-raped her. Jesse felt guilty, and attempted to mend fences with her, only to fall in love in the process. As anybody would normally react to the situation, Trisha is disgusted and leaves Jesse for good.
Initially, I honestly thought that Jesse's inclusion in the film felt like an afterthought. After watching it for the second time, I still think that his formal introduction is rushed to the point that it robs the emotional punch that the twist is supposed to deliver. I did, however, appreciate his role in the film as the final push for Trisha to finally be independent emotionally, and I do believe that Jesse's character arc is interesting and sensible, but is poorly executed.

One obvious way to fix this is to have Jesse appear in a lot of flashbacks. We could first introduce him as one of the few people who subtly ares about Trisha, but he could not show genuine affection in fear of being persecuted by his colleagues.

Later flashbacks would show that Jesse is there in a few of Trisha's competitions, watching and supporting him. These flashbacks would also show some very minimal interaction between the two characters that would further establish Jesse's growing attraction, such as Trisha consoling him about his conflicted preference. Only the hospital scene would give these scenes a newer interpretation.

I also have a few suggestions about how Jesse was involved in the rape scene, but considering that having Jesse appear in a better light would rob the ending scenes their complexity, I think having him searching for forgiveness before dying is perfect enough.

I do suggest that we could have had an additional scene, immediately after the incident, wherein Jesse is actually disgusted by his actions, convincing him to distance himself from his peers. Not only would that be in-line with the idea that there are people outside of Trisha's friends that really do love her, and though the appearance of actresses Iza Calzado (Bliss) and Eugene Domingo (Ang Babae sa Septic Tank) already echo this sentiment, this would provide an equally complex yet meaningful conflict. Besides, as far as the film goes, there isn't a single decent soul in their school that are not close to her and her friends.

Overall, Die Beautiful is an emotional and entirely moving feature that transcends its vulgarity excess and a few narrative pitfalls. Yes, there are some moments that are better left shortened or cut entirely, and though some characters are portrayed in a somewhat stereotypical light, this is indeed a mature movie that does not forget the heart.

I hereby grant this film an 18/20 (Pleasant Entertainment)

And here is where we end our latest movie review. For those who can't get enough of this amazing movie, take a look at three deleted scenes that the director posted on his Twitter account. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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