Dante Basco & his family make a messy, endearing dramedy

The Fabulous Filipino Brothers is sprawling, messy, tonally imbalanced, and not always executed with the shine of a top Hollywood production. But it’s also brimming with personality, revealing of a culture, and comes from the heart. This review will be mixed, but in the end, as the final credits rolled, there was no doubt that this film was a worthwhile creative venture for all involved and I honestly felt honored to have had a seat at the table with this fabulous Filipino family.

I pulled the trigger on this movie for the same reason that many will: “Hey, Hook’s Rufio made a movie!”. That’s perhaps reductive, but in a crowded field of SXSW titles to choose from, I was genuinely curious to see what a scripted film written/directed by/starring Dante Basco and featuring his real life brothers (and/or a whole lot of people with the last name Basco) would be like. And if I’m being totally honest, Rufio isn’t my only reference point for Basco’s career. As a die hard fan of action cinema I was pleased to see him in one of the greatest direct to video action films ever made: 2009’s Blood And Bone starring Michael Jai White. Since seeing him there, as a grown man continuing to hustle, I’ve been kind of pulling for him. But until this film and looking at his IMDb I had no idea what he was up to these days, or that he has over 130 credits to his name. Good for him, man. Here with The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, he’s got a whole other kind of beast to be proud of.

As co-writer/co-star/producer/musician/director, it’s clear that this is a passion project for which Basco was willing and able to wear many hats. I love this kind of thing in a way, when a filmmaker just does it all and goes all in on a project. There’s no doubt whatsoever that this is a family effort when you see those credits. This kind of hat-wearing can also drag a project down in some ways too, however, perhaps not giving a chance for an outsider to bring in their perspective. The Fabulous Filipino Brothers lives and dies by its family ties. By that I mean some lesser performances or less cinematic shots were probably allowed to slip by in the interest of making this a family production. I wonder if perhaps Basco could have brought in a journeyman director that could have provided a second pair of eyes while still acknowledging the Basco family vision was at the core of this film. But then, who am I to say, because just as much of the magic and irreplaceable personality of the film is allowed to seep through precisely because it’s such a family affair.

Ultimately The Fabulous Filipino Brothers is about exactly what it sounds like. Fictionalized though it may be, one gets the sense that half of these adventures and anecdotes depicted in the film are lived in experiences of the Basco clan (on screen: the Abasta clan). Eldest brother Deyo (Derek Basco) heads up the first breakaway chapter as he attempts to pull together enough money to pay for all the food at a big wedding which is the “wraparound” story supporting the various chapters focusing on each brother. It’s a largely comedic chapter as Deyo tries to explain to his Chinese wife why Filipinos are “jungle Asians” and why he has to scrape this money together to pay for the food. Unfortunately he has a bad night gambling and ends up on a wacky shady underworld scenario in which his highly religious Grandma somehow ends up in tow. It’s honestly a very funny chapter, though the acting performances aren’t all there entirely. Next we get Dante’s chapter as Duke. On a business trip to the Philippines (his first time there as a Filipino American), Duke reconnects with a high school sweetheart who had left for the Philippines after graduation. It’s romantic and the chemistry is there. Comedic relief brother David (Dionysio Basco) has the shortest and least consequential chapter in which he engages in extended and ridiculous sexual foreplay with a wedding guest that’ll have you never quite looking at a roast pig the same way again. Dionysio Basco gives perhaps the most natural performance of the four brothers even if he’s the least developed of the characters. The final chapter ties it all together with Danny Boy (Darion Basco) and his first date after years of depressed isolation due to a tragic family split years earlier. This final act and the conclusion of the wedding wraparound story really cemented for me that there was something special here. Liza Lapira as Teresa, Danny Boy’s date, is a real “late in the game” presence that enlivens the film and as Danny Boy’s heart begins to find its way in this date with Teresa, I found myself genuinely moved.

There’s personality to spare in The Fabulous Filipino Brothers. In fact I think there’s so much personality bubbling over here that this might have more success as a sitcom or series, allowing more chapters to be told, more tones to be expressed, and so on. So much of the vibe, the complicated dynamics of Filipino immigrant families in the United States, the crowded and complex relationships that form between multigenerational families all living under one or two roofs… it radiates through the film. And in the end, that energy ends up having to cover for some less stellar filmmaking in terms of performance and direction. It’s a mixed bag, but, as Teresa points out in the film, there’s “beauty in the chaos”.

And I’m Out.

Previous post Criterion Review: SMOOTH TALK