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Preface: I have great admiration and affection for director Gene Cajayon. More so than even most Asian American films, The Debut was a true labor of love (emphasis on labor) and I know how hard he struggled to bring this film to light. That said, I've also always been candid with some of my critiques of the film. The two most important, in my opinion, are very much interrelated. Firstly, the film is more or less a Filipino take on the familiar family melodrama model that so many Asian American films have followed and while one cannot fault any community their desire to tell their own version of that story, when cast against the wider backdrop of Asian American cinema, the film can feel formulaic without necessarily even meaning too.
Related to that is the "kitchen sink" effect, which means that this film - like many others - feels like it was burdened by the need to represent as much about "the community" as possible and as such, becomes overladen in scenes or other signifiers that, after a while, can feel trite or obligatory.
I think almost all "first" Asian American films for specific communities will inevitably feel this pressure and I don't envy any filmmaker (especially those seeking funding from said communities) having to deal with the many layers of expectations put upon them in trying to balance their vision with a sense of responsibility they may feel to the very people they're hoping to craft these stories for. The hope is that by the time you get to the next project, that pressure has been more or less lifted and you can really start telling the stories you want to tell...uncompromised by a sense of duty or obligation.
THE REVIEW (originally appeared on Popmatters.com).
See also: The Debut website.