The comedy hits hard from the very beginning of ‘Patay na si Hesus.” In the early morning of an outdoor canteen, a man orders food from a silent and pensive Jacyln Jose. She takes the meat and begins chopping it with such ferocity that frightens everyone. It’s a scene with barely any dialogue, and the film just started, but the drawing out of the moment and the intensity of Jaclyn Jose’s performance nails the comedic skill that’s at work here and leaves you breathless with laughter.
“Patay na si Hesus,” declares Jaclyn Jose’s Iyay, a single mother, and she’s pertaining to the death of her estranged husband. It’s the beginning of a hilarious romp from Cebu to Dumaguete in a minicab with her quirky children to attend the wake.
Comedy is a tricky thing because there are many kinds and it involves taste. It’s also challenging because you have to be able to offer something more than just laughs. The context by which all of these jokes come in have to be grounded in a story that we can follow and relate to, otherwise it gets boring.
‘Patay na si Hesus’ covers all ground because it’s grounded on a very familiar story about finding closure and having to deal with the finality of death. At the same time, all of Iyay’s children, played by Chai Fonacier, Melde Montanez, and Vincent Viado, have their own stories to play out. With a well-structured, multi-layered story that informs on each other, director Victor Villanueva plays with a variety of comedic tropes and does it without fear. There’s visual comedy, hilarious banter, slapstick, and absurdity to create a dynamic film that’s funny and yet still touching from beginning to end.
What makes the film so endearing is how well each character inhabits their characters and their world that the comedic moments happen without any of the actors playing it for comedy. Chai Fonacier plays Jude, a transgender man whose relationship is being tested. Fonacier is magnificent as the tough talking Jude and her emotional pain is as real to her as the comic elements that surround her. Melde Montañez’s portrayal of the unemployed Jay is a wonderful example of delightful innocence that is funny without even the need of a punchline. Jay is not very bright and while he’s the largest of the family, he is also the smallest in terms of character and the visual of him cowering over the more powerful members of his family immediately puts a smile on your face.
Playing Iyay’s sister is Mailes Kanapi, who plays Sister Linda with wild abandon. Most of the absurdist humor lies with her and she does it so naturally that you resist it. It’s a fearless performance reminiscent of the crazy aunt or the wild sibling where none of the rules ever really apply to them.
But at the center of all of this is Jacyln Jose, who must wrestle with Iyay’s demons while dealing with all of her children and her sister’s craziness. Despite all the strangeness and funny barbs, Jose delivers the image of a woman who must pay her respects to a man she has unresolved feelings for while the children she forced on this journey is unraveling around her. When she delivers her lines, funny or touching, or when she withdraws into herself, Jose captures that and as funny as the movie is, it brings us back again to the story that we are inevitably drawn into this road trip with these characters.
Of all its strengths, ‘Patay na si Hesus’ is a character study of people pushed to the limit of their emotions. It has a wide range of themes with family and death, being the strongest, but the film also does amazing work with representation of the LGBT community and people with disabilities. Despite its madcap humor, it never veers to stereotypes and never caricatures its LGBT and PWD characters. It’s a fine control of story and direction. It’s daring because it’s not afraid to make its character human and it gives the humor more depth.
Director Victor Villanueva and screenwriters Moira Lang and Fatrick Tabada managed to build a crazy world but authentically human and unmistakably Filipino. The usage of Cebuano is a wonderful touch to remind us that there’s so much more to see and experience in our country but our pain and our joys are all the same. “Patay na si Hesus” is one of the funniest Filipino films I’ve seen and I’m so happy to have been on that trip with them.