Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Support City Paper!
A grass-roots, eight-years-in-the-making, utterly indie feature, writer-director Gene Cajayon’s The Debut is a classic coming-of-age tale about a teenager who doesn’t want to follow the path his father has chosen for him. What’s more interesting, however, is that it’s also a tutorial on Filipino-American culture, from traditional dances to hiphop. College-bound Californian Ben (Dante Basco) has just cashed in his comic-book collection to finance his first year of art school, but he hasn’t told his father (Tirso Cruz III). Dad’s a postman who left the Philippines to give Ben greater opportunities, and he expects his only son to study medicine. Most of the action takes place at the 18th birthday bash for Ben’s sister Rose (Bernadette Balagtas), a large coming-out party attended by scores of locals and Ben’s disapproving grandfather (Eddie Garcia), who flies in from Manila. Ben plans to make a brief appearance and then head to a competing party to court an attractive blond admirer (named, of course, Jennifer). But he and his non-Filipino friends end up spending most of the evening at Rose’s debut, where Ben meets Rose’s charming friend Annabelle (Joy Bisco)—and learns that she’s the ex of the still-jealous Augusto (Darion Basco), a childhood pal of Ben’s who’s become a pistol-packing gangsta. While Augusto accuses Ben of being a “coconut”—brown outside, white within—Annabelle accuses Augusto of trying too hard to be black. Scuffles, insults, and self-doubts ensue, with the unsurprising result that Ben begins to re-evaluate the ancestral culture he’s rejected. Beyond the conventional story arc, however, the film boasts a diverse all-Filipino score and a few bits of provocative commentary, notably a parking-lot Chomsky who explains how the Man uses automobile fetishism to distract working-class ethnics from real social issues. —Mark Jenkins