Filipino lesbian film “Ned’s Project” is all kinds of problematic

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How to tell when a lesbian-themed film really wasn’t made for a lesbian audience: its leading lesbian does something super un-lesbian-like and it’s not even questioned. The worst of these cinematic sins is of course very familiar to us–baby crazy lesbian sleeps with a man in order to have said baby.

But in 2016? Really?

And just like that, a movie that had its positive moments alienates an entire community despite what probably were good intentions. That’s the Filipino comedy-drama Ned’s Project for you.

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If you’re still with me, let’s discuss the good and the bad, shall we?

Our protagonist is Ned (or Henedina De Asis if you want to use her full name), played by the well-known Filipina actress Angeli Bayani. Ned’s the best tattoo artist in her small town; she’s got a gorgeous girlfriend and her group of friends are the kind anyone would love to have. A charmed life, right? Well, it kind of is until it all starts to come apart.

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For one, the most influential person in Ned’s life is dying. Max (Lui Manansala) taught her everything she knows about tattoos and probably a thing or two about the ladies. She’s also, however, let Ned know under no uncertain terms that “people like them” die alone.

But Ned’s not alone. She’s got her longtime girlfriend, Gladys (Dionne Monsanto). They even seem to be going strong despite Ned’s fits of jealousy. So why won’t Gladys have a baby with her?

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Maybe it’s because she knows their relationship has an expiration date. Ned’s sister certainly hopes that’s the case. When she stops by one night, she not so quietly calls Gladys a “slut” and asks Ned what she thinks their deceased parents would think. Ouch.

Gladys must have overheard them because the next day she’s leaving with the guy Ned got jealous over outside her work. Her pride on the line, Ned tries to fight him, but she ultimately loses the girl. I know, I know–this movie also has a woman leaving another for a man? Maybe they are trying to piss us off.

And the hits just keep coming for the lesbians. After the crap with Gladys, Ned visits Max one night to find that she’s passed away. Feeling well and truly alone now, Ned is determined to have a baby.

Her first bright idea? Sleeping with her straight best bud, who she knows has always had a crush on her. He’s actually hesitant at first but, unsurprisingly, ultimately agrees to the idea. And they almost do it, despite Ned making all these weird faces, so we know that this lesbian isn’t really into this before Ned stops it. “I can’t. It’s disgusting,” she says. My thoughts exactly.

And then, almost as if to reaffirm her lesbianism, a beautiful, rich city girl comes to town. Ashley (Max Eigenmann) wants Ned to tattoo her, and she’s dropping other hints almost as much as she’s dropping English.

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But before we can really get into that, we must get back to the baby-making. (Must we though?) This time, Ned’s visiting a doctor to talk about artificial insemination, which, are you kidding me? Why would she even consider sleeping with a guy if she thought there was any chance at all of being able to afford that? But of course, she can’t. The doctor’s advice? “Do it the simple and natural way.” No!

Well evidently with booze in her system anything’s an option because shortly after she forcibly tries to get her gay friend to have sex with her. I kid you not. I couldn’t even imagine things getting worse after that, but they eventually would.

First, though, a bit of a reprieve. Coincidentally, a trash reality TV show competition called Lotsa Lesbo, Lotsa Money is awarding the winner the exact amount Ned needs to go through the artificial insemination process. The show is obviously a parody of That’s My Tomboy and I’m okay with that because in this instance the filmmaker’s aware of the ridiculousness.

Anyway, apparently dance is the way to win this competition and Ned can’t. But she thinks/hopes Ashley can be of help and asks for her assistance. After agreeing to swap lessons for as many free tattoos as Ashley wants (Ashley is totally getting the better end of the deal here, by the way), they’re on. Do I think Ned really asked because after seeing how good Ashley is with the neighborhood kids her crush grew tenfold? I do, but it’s cute, so whatever.

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Naturally, a romantic dance lesson montage follows. Shortly after, Ned nails her audition in a red dress, as per Ashley’s request. Well, it’s not so much that her audition was great, it’s just that everyone else sucked. Weirdly, as she advances in the competition her dance routine stays the same, and everyone continues to suck. Not much of a competition if you ask me.

But at least it’s a perfect excuse to keep hanging out with Ashley. The more time they spend together, the more they open up. By the last round before the final, even Ned’s lesbian friends can tell Ashley’s smitten.

When they finally do make love, it starts with a discussion of broken hearts and tattoos. It’s fitting because it’s what brought them together in the first place. And it mostly is a beautiful scene, except for some odd sex choreography and a weird moment with a belt.

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Yet the very next day, Ashley is gone. What’s more, she doesn’t show up for the finals. Ned’s sister, who has come a long way on the gay front and even seems to like Ashley, is there, but she’s not enough to distract Ned from a broken heart. She blows it at the final.

Without the girl and the award money, Ned (like this movie) goes completely off the rails. After drinking herself into a stupor with her equally drunk friends, a threesome apparently sounds like a great idea. Let me make things clear: a threesome between Ned and two guy friends. Yup.

So what next? Does she end up pregnant? If so, who’s the father? And what of Ashley–is she coming back? If so, what will she make of the drunken night? And if there is a baby, is Ashley on board for co-parenting?

But really, would any resolution make up for the bad? Absolutely not.

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It’s a shame because not only were the several used tropes old and offensive, but there are positives to this movie. Bayani and Eigenmann are great in their roles and have real chemistry. There are also more than half a dozen queer women featured in the film, which can also boast some amazing cinematography. And yet in Ned you have this caricature: a tatted up, slightly athletic lesbian who uses a wallet chain, rocks an undercut, makes gun cocking motions in bed and has posters of women up at work and in her bedroom. This being the very same hardcore lesbian who considered having sex with men on multiple occasions and then actually went through with the act. Yeah, I’m getting conflicting signals here.

Now, if my North American privilege is stopping me from seeing something, let me know. Really. In any case, I’m a believer in judging for yourself. So please, watch as you wish, but proceed with caution.

Ned’s Project plays at the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival in Manila on Aug. 9. Visit the movie’s Facebook page for future screening news.

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