by Jeff Walsh
Wow, I was completely surprised by the Filipino movie "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros," which stars a 12-year-old as a very feminine gay boy (trans girl?). It is such a charming movie, although the sexuality/gender identity of Maxi is really one element of this multi-faceted story.
Maxi is pretty much running the now-motherless household that also includes his father and two older brothers. He cooks, cleans, patches up their clothing, but more like a spunky housewife than Cinderella. His sexuality is just part of who he is, although his brutish family do refer to him jokingly as female, although given his outfits, hair accessories, and demeanor, he definitely seems more like a girl than a feminine boy.
Maxi lives in a poor part of Manila, where his father sells stolen cell phones in their stand on the street as well as running betting pools and other illicit things.
When some local boys pick on Maxi, pulling his pants down to see if he really is a girl, a new police officer breaks the fight up, and thus becomes the object of Maxi's affection. Of course, there are so many other layers going on in this story, knowing this much, you still know very little. It just becomes a difficult position for Maxi to be the friend of a cop when his family life and the other circles in which he runs are all based on illegal activity.
It is a pretty amazing performance from the young Nathan Lopez in the title role. So much of the movie hinges on his ability to hold all the elements together, and it works so well. Unlike many other gay foreign movies, where the gay story seems to have no cultural underpinnings, The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros really shows the hard life and buoyant spirit of the people who live in this world, just trying to get by as best they can.
That said, people renting this expecting some coming of age, coming out, or any traditional gay/trans story, this isn't that movie. Maxi is who he is from the moment the film starts and his family reluctantly accepts whatever that happens to be. But the cultural aspect and how well it is woven together into an interesting character study, family drama, and police thriller make this one a nice night of movie watching. Check it out.