The Debut

  • 2002
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

A labor of love for Filipino-American filmmakers Gene Cajayon and John Manal Castro, this comedy-drama pivots on the classic disparity between the values and aspirations of immigrant parents and their American-raised children. High-school senior Ben Mercado (Dante Basco) has a scholarship to UCLA, but wants to attend Cal Arts and pursue a career in animation....read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A labor of love for Filipino-American filmmakers Gene Cajayon and John Manal Castro, this comedy-drama pivots on the classic disparity between the values and aspirations of immigrant parents and their American-raised children. High-school senior Ben Mercado (Dante Basco) has a scholarship to UCLA, but wants to attend Cal Arts and pursue a career in animation. His old-fashioned father, Roland (Tirso Cruz III), doesn't understand why his son is wasting so much time and money in pursuit of a "hobby" when he has the opportunity to attend medical school. Ben, in turn, doesn't know Roland abandoned his own singing career in the Philippines to support his family, nor is he aware of Roland's difficult relationship with his own father, Lolo Carlos (Eddie Garcia), who's disappointed that Roland remains a lowly mailman when his brother, Lenny (Ernie Zarate), became a doctor. Ben's older sister, Rose (Bernadette Balagtas), moves easily between American and Filipino culture, but Ben feels he has to choose, and he's chosen America: He doesn't speak a word of Tagalog, hangs out with white kids and loves comic books and rap music. This simmering family discord comes to a head on Rose's 18th birthday, at a lavish, traditional party for family and friends — though, as Lolo Carlos is quick to point out, it's not the proper debutante ball a more successful father would have given his only daughter. Over the course of a long night of drinking, dancing and eating, Ben confronts some of his fears, deals with overbearing relatives, reluctantly introduces some of his American friends to Filipino culture, and meets a girl, Ana (Joy Bisco), who's equally at home performing traditional dance and busting hip-hop moves. Eight years in the making and deeply rooted in the filmmakers' personal experiences, this wildly ambitious picture attempts to address complicated issues of cultural identity, intergenerational strife, conflict between older and new immigrants and family dynamics in a light-hearted, 89-minute coming of age story. The film went through a brief flirtation with the Hollywood mainstream before Cajayon and Castro were told it would appeal to mainstream audiences only with white actors in the lead; they opted to go the independent route instead, casting Filipino performers and raising money within the community. That it feels so predictable is, ironically, a tribute to the universality of the experience it explores: For all the Filipino-specific details, it recalls dozens of similar films about Mexican-American, Indian-American, Greek-American and other hyphenated families.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: A labor of love for Filipino-American filmmakers Gene Cajayon and John Manal Castro, this comedy-drama pivots on the classic disparity between the values and aspirations of immigrant parents and their American-raised children. High-school senior Ben Mercad… (more)

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