Cinemalaya Movie Review: I America

I America provides a sad but truthful social commentary on Filipino’s colonial mentality, but lacks the narrative focus to deliver a compelling story for its titular character.

Erica, a half-filipino and half-caucasian living in Olongapo city, wants to live the American dream but faces an identity crisis upon meeting her American father for the first time.

Despite our persistence for independence and countless calls for national pride, there’s no such thing as the Filipino dream. Instead, many hold on to the American dream, assuming that once you step into the country wealth is already within reach.

I America offers an earnest story about the ill-effects of Filipino Xenocentrism. Sex workers at Olongapo City welcome the arrival of American soldiers, thinking that G.I. Joe is the key to a better life. Instead, most end up with fatherless Amerasians.

Erica is luckier than most, her right blend of American and Filipino good looks had led to commercial stints. While she has an estranged mother, her American father is committed enough to support her. She lives with her mother’s co-worker and has become the breadwinner to adopted siblings that are a product of the failed American dream. This unconventional family relationship provides a good set-up for the drama and comedy elements of the movie.

Bela Padilla, real name Krista Vale Sullivan, is perfectly cast for the role as a Filipino-Brit. She’s also convincing as a Filipino who speaks broken English, humorously resorting to well known phrases when she runs out of words like “blast from past”. The rest of the cast also did well in adding humor to the story. During a welcome dinner, Erica and her adopted siblings’ guardian casually tells John Berry that she’s a prostitute, while someone mentions its a “pek pek house”.  Whitney Winston introduces her girl group Destiny’s Children, but always end up getting upstaged.

While I America sheds light on an important issue, the main narrative lacks the focus needed to develop Erica’s story. She’s sidelined by subplots involving the supporting cast. The plot twist could have led to a more interesting introspection on identity, the Americanized Filipino dream, and unconventional families. While Bela Padilla is capable of handling serious scenes with the veteran Elizabeth Oropesa, the script makes her dramatic even when unnecessary to add the serious tone in the film.

That being said I America still works as a fitting social documentary on the Filipino’s warped view on America and its citizens. Many assume that everything American is great, blinding them from reality. As Destiny’s Children gets cast aside for Erica in an audition because of her fair skin and westernized good looks, we are reminded that often, we are the barrier to our own actualization.

My Rating: 6/10


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