John Denver Trending (2019)

Straightforward but effective feature debut that depicts the perils of social media virality in a post-truth world, through the eyes of a young boy suffering from an immeasurable injustice. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,106

Dir. Arden Rod Condez
2019 | Philippines | Drama | 96 mins | 1.85:1 | Tagalog & Filipino
PG13 (passed clean) for some mature content

Cast: Jansen Magpusao, Meryll Soriano, Glen Sevilla Mas
Plot: A 14-year-old farmboy’s life is suddenly upended when a video of him brutally attacking a classmate goes viral.
Awards: Nom. for New Currents Award (Busan)
International Sales: Southern Lantern Studios

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Truth, Injustice, Social Media Virality

Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

Social media virality rears its ugly head in this debut feature by Filipino director Arden Rod Condez, which is a ‘rage-fest’-type film where you’ll be frustrated and angered at the immeasurable injustice suffered by the titular protagonist. 

Watching it reminded me about how I felt when I first saw Shyam Benegal’s Nishant (1975) or Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), to name a couple of films where the characters were powerless to right wrongs. 

John Denver Trending may not be as sophisticated as these films, but it is effective in its own world, and perhaps more heartbreakingly, it is told through the eyes of a young boy. 

A student at a local school, and often the subject of bullying by his peers, John Denver (a quiet but strong first acting role from Jansen Magpusao) becomes the most hated villain of his province after a video of him assaulting another student turns viral. 

As the incessant witch-hunt and character assassination continue, sometimes through fake news, we bear witness to the problems of a post-truth world rendered intimate in scope. 

There are some allusions to the wider sociopolitical context in the Philippines, a trickle-down effect where Duterte’s controversial government is concerned, but John Denver Trending never loses focus on its lead character. 

Meryll Soriano, who plays John Denver’s mother, is also excellent in a supporting role, as she tries to defend her son’s integrity and protect him from psychological harm. 

Straightforward but effective, John Denver Trending asks of us to think about the children in our society who are suffering from a very perverse form of cyberbullying.

Grade: B


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