Wednesday, November 30, 2016

John Paul Su's "Toto"- The U.S. Visa as Measure of Success

Toto (Sid Lucero) has but one dream - to go to America. So he's turning every rock to find the means to get there. But the American visa is a huge stumbling block. It doesn't help that the amiable hotel bellhop has very few treasures to show at the embassy. His checklist is a tall order: a rich family, a fat bank account and the steadfast resolve to hurdle every rejection. Now where can he acquire the aforementioned?

Toto's prospects aren't promising. His head is up in the clouds, barely looking over his shoulders to realize that his girlfriend Tessa (Mara Lopez) and best friend Yam (Thou Reyes), who both harbor feelings for him, are conveniently being taken for granted. But this is his "show", not theirs, so he's all too willing to dance to the popular tune, the "Macarena", no matter how cheesy it is, to find his place in the American sun.

On the side, Toto peddles pirated DVDs and postures like Tom Cruise. He meets Eve Porter (LIza Dino), a fil-am guest in the hotel where he works, who accepts his marriage-for-convenience proposal, But it will cost him. Another guest, David (Blake Boyd), a gay businessman from Texas, becomes an unexpected mentor and friend. But even the best laid plans don't always turn the way we want them to. 

John Paul Su's "Toto" is a comedy of manners, though this time it zeroes in on the working class. Many stories have been told about the much-vaunted American dream. Heck, even Cameron Mackintosh's "Miss Saigon" (recently screened in SM Cinemas nationwide) sang-and-danced for it. Bela Padilla's more recent "I America" was screened at the Cinemalaya with very similar story and setting, it even has Thou Reyes playing another gay friend named Whitney! 


People dream for different reasons although most Filipinos do it for the opportunities they present. Economic and financial security are, after all, as basic a need as breathing air. Sid Lucero, in an Inquirer interview, mentioned that he dreams of just flipping burgers, feeding people and surfing - that's his piece of the American dream. I don't have an American dream. I may be as colonial in manner and sensibility, but my heart lies in this archipelagic mess. This takes me to the wayward ideation that getting to America is, by itself, a measure of success. Babaw huh. Filipinos should put a lid on this and readjust their criteria to something more substantial. Your stepping on American soil does not automatically make you the epitome of success, but a mere statistics of migration.

This exactly is the reason why I am hardly fond of movies with such themes. Opportunities are available right within our shores. You don't need to go to, say Hong Kong, earn P7,000 a month as a domestic helper, and call yourself an achiever, do you? Propagating the mystic of migration does a disservice to the talent of the Filipino. Despite all these, the diaspora continues.

"There is desperation all over, but one tendered with glee and enthusiasm.

"Toto" makes the journey to acquiring a visa more upbeat, and Sid Lucero does a great job depicting the resolute spirit of the Filipino dreamer. There is desperation all over, but one tendered with glee and enthusiasm. This is the Filipino's penchant for seeing the silver lining in the midst of misfortune and apathy. Doing Toto is like walking on thin ice because it is a crucial balancing act. Besides, Lucero once admitted that he isn't too crazy about slapstick comedy - or just comedy, in general. Thou Reyes is adorable as the protagonist's gay best friend who would rather go behind bars than see Toto fail. In some ways, he mirrors what true love is all about, i.e. that sacrifices are part of the package. Reyes is insightful, vulnerable and funny. 


I saw this movie last year at the Indie section of the Metro Manila Film Festival. I wasn't over-the-moon then, but I wanted a second viewing this time so I could place it alongside "I America" which is one of the better outputs from this year's hundred-and-one film festivals. Both movies are a companion piece. Robin Padilla's "La Visa Loca" (2005) is a distant cousin. I may have readjusted my perceptions about it but I am of the opinion that stories like these should be given a rest. Make no mistake, Director John Paul Su's movie is well made, adequately paced, entertaining and has great performances all around. But the subject matter is a bit of a pickle.

In my book, getting an American visa is a mere procedure and doesn't deserve a parade. Or a whole movie for that matter. More importantly, stepping on American soil is not a measure of success, and shouldn't be celebrated as such.          

Toto, Tessa and Yam share more than friendship.

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