In 1984, Filipino teenagers obsessed over Bagets, a movie that attempted to be to the Philippines what Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Sixteen Candles were to the U.S. Those American teen flicks had been lily-white suburban romps through the highs and lows of puberty; Bagets covered similar territory, only with distinctly Filipino characters and a story centered in Manila.
My mother claims she and her friends saw Bagets at least ten times when they were in high school. Not too long ago, she got nostalgic and decided that we would watch it together as a family. I was expecting a dumb comedy, a mediocre relic of my mother's youth in the Philippines, but by the time the movie was over, I'd realized that, strange and cheesy as it is, Bagets is an underrated, unique piece of filmmaking that could only be made in the Philippines, but has something to say to Americans, too.
The story follows a group of five high school seniors: nerdy Gilbert, rich boy Arnil, slacker Tonton, Adie, a sweet lunk who loves an older woman, and Toffee, another sweet lunk who loves an older woman, because one cougar plotline wasn't scandalous enough. The guys call their gang the "Bagets" for reasons that are never directly explained -- maybe they like French bread?
The Bagets don't embark on any bakery-related adventures. Most of their exploits are typical teen movie fair: joy rides, flirting with girls on the beach, winning a basketball game, circumcision -- wait, circumcision? Yes, circumcision. Within the first half-hour of screen time, the Bagets not only bring dorky Gilbert to the clinic for a very special operation, but also make jokes at his expense while shopping for melons in a street market. This is what first fascinated me about Bagets: it simultaneously runs through the checklist of American teen movie clichés and implements a distinctly Filipino cultural cache. Although the obligatory prom scene incorporated elements I'd seen in Valley Girl or Pretty in Pink, I have yet to recall another '80s movie where a character is mocked for having a foreskin after third grade.
Other memorable moments include Tonton joining a spontaneous jam session with his girlfriend's jazz-obsessed family, an brothel scene devoid of nudity, let alone sex, (edgy?) and a dance number set to Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Something" that is definitely impressive, but doesn't impact the story. The plot structure is irregular at best -- at times it's unclear when a scene was scripted and when the director just pointed the camera at a bunch of teenage guys and said "go nuts" -- but this was a movie made for the Manila where my mom grew up, where it was acceptable to show up at the cinema midway through the movie with a bucket of fried chicken and leave whenever you wanted. The goal of Bagets was not to film a streamlined, coherent plot, but to present 90 minutes' worth of entertainment that people would be willing to watch over and over.
Despite all the craziness, Bagets does have something to say about a serious issue: class. The movie opens with the Bagets being expelled from their prep school and transferring to a much less distinguished institute, a setup for hijinks, but also for an examination of the inanity of classism. These boys fit in perfectly at their new school, prestigious or not, and manage to maintain a tight bond with each other, even though some are old money, others new and in Gilbert's case, from a formerly affluent family that has fallen on hard times. Yes, Bagets is a goofy movie, but it serves up some interesting cultural commentary underneath all the sugar.
In contrast, most of the American teen comedies analogous to Bagets actually preach acceptance of the Reagan-era class system that largely still exists today. The title character of Ferris Bueller's Day Off is wealthy, deceptive and suffers no repercussions for his misbehavior. He's a Bernie Madoff-style villain in training, and yet teenagers continue to idolize him. Pretty in Pink is allegedly class commentary, but the Molly Ringwald character is happy to wind up with the bland, rich Prince Charming in the end, just as she is in Sixteen Candles. These are the movies people my age are inheriting from their parents, movies they'll probably pass on to their kids. I'm happy that my mom gave me Bagets, which, strange and wacky as it is, offers a different, arguably more progressive perspective. For that reason, I think it's worth watching, even if you're not Filipino. At the very least, you'll get a kick out of the Michael Jackson dance.