Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017: Down Syndrome is Tackled with Grace in the Heartwarming Star na si Van Damme Stallone

TL;DR While it gets too sweet & aspirational by the third act, Star na si Van Damme Stallone is a funny, heartwarming movie that handles Down Syndrome with the levity & subtlety it deserves.

Down syndrome is a condition misunderstood by majority of the public. People who have Down syndrome are mostly mocked or ostracized by society. It doesn’t help that representation for people with Down syndrome is mostly nil.

Star na si Van Damme Stallone¬†(Van Damme Stallone is Now a Star) proves it shouldn’t be that way. This is an excellent movie that gives people with Down syndrome & their families a chance in the spotlight, & have their stories told.

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Nadia (Candy Pangilinan) is a single parent who has to make ends meet to raise her two children Tano & Van Damme Stallone (who is given the nickname Vanvan), the latter of which has Down syndrome. The movie follows the family’s struggles & victories, as Nadia guides her children to adulthood, while Vanvan tries to achieve his dream to be an actor.

The best thing about the movie is it takes pains in showing how hard it can be to raise a child with Down syndrome without sugarcoating or overplaying the struggle or fears of every parent & family member. It focuses on the small, intimate moments, like Nadia worrying about your Vanvan’s future, Tano letting Vanvan get the lead role in a play, or the family defending Vanvan from bullies. It’s not afraid to go dark either, with one of the movie’s memorable moments involve Nadia doing something horrible to escape her life, but backing away at the last moment, quickly apologizing to Vanvan. It already knows that taking care of someone with Down syndrome is compelling enough on its own.

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Although this movie isn’t as dour as it sounds. This is a sweet & hilarious movie, & is better for it. Vanvan is surrounded by people who love & support him outside their main family, like his grade school teacher & her mother’s best friend Cecille (Sarah Brakensiek) & his uncle Jim (Richard Noson). It is partly aspirational, but it never loses its unsparing, realistic approach. There are jokes, but none are there to make Vanvan the butt of it. It makes for a charming movie, even as it deals with a topic like Down syndrome.

More importantly, Vanvan is depicted as an actual human. He’s not a never-ending obstacle for his family, a prop to emphasize how good his family is, nor an unlimited supply of goodness. Vanvan has wants, needs, strengths & flaws. The movie even indulges in bits of whimsy, taking us into Vanvan’s mind in an effort to show us who he is.

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It helps that the actors they chose to play Vanvan are excellent; both of which have Down syndrome as well. Jadford Dilanco & Paolo Pingol play young & old Van Damme respectively, & they both capture his playful, childlike innocence & his pricklier side. But the most surprising & outstanding performance has to be from Candy Pangilinan. She shows us the internal struggle of a single parent with a subtle, nuanced performance. It’s not showy, but it fits the movie’s mood & story.

The movie does get too sweet & indulge in unearned wish fulfillment by the third act. It tries its best to give everyone a happy ending, one of which involves a cameo appearance from Jasmine Curtis-Smith. It doesn’t matter, since it’s still absorbing by the end. Besides, Star na si Van Damme Stallone is the kind of sincere, good-natured family movie that rarely gets made anymore & it tackles the subject of Down syndrome with the delicate touch it deserves.

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