The historic Pickwick Theatre
  • Kelly Martin/Wikipedia Commons
  • The historic Pickwick Theatre

On Saturday afternoon, a friend and I took a drive to Park Ridge to see Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy at the Pickwick Theatre. We went partly because the movie is a mainstream comedy from the Philippines, and neither of us had seen one before. We also felt, as dedicated moviegoers, a sense of obligation to patronize an independent theater engaging in independent programming. But really, we wanted an excuse to visit the Pickwick, one of the most beautiful operating movie houses in the Chicago area. First opened in 1928, the theater features a remarkable 100-foot tower and memorable interior design that combines Aztec imagery with art deco flourishes. And next door to the main entrance sits the no-less-inviting Pickwick Diner, where I discovered one of the finest Monte Cristo sandwiches I’ve had outside of the Windy City Café.

We saw Girl, Boy in one of the Pickwick’s three smaller theaters, which were built in back of the main auditorium in 1990. Some might find the space cramped in comparison with more recent multiplex designs (though it’s worth noting that the management installed new, wider seats a couple years ago). Personally, I found the narrow room cozy, especially after coming in from a snow shower. It seemed appropriate to watch a family comedy in this environment, amid closely packed groups of four or more, everyone granting special attention to the movie to forget they were sitting in damp clothes.


The only part of the experience that took me out of Girl, Boy was the lack of masking—the movie wasn’t in the same aspect ratio as the Pickwick screen, and nothing covered up the unused portion of the viewing window. I find these white patches distracting. I was less bothered by the fact that the movie wasn’t very good. Girl, Boy is an indifferent, but hardly offensive piece of comic filmmaking in the Adam Sandler-Dennis Dugan mode, comparable in its lighting, music cues, and emotional legibility to a pet-food commercial. Filipino comic Vice Ganda plays four quadruplets whose parents separated when they were babies. One brother and sister grew up rich with their father in California; the other two stayed behind with their mother in the Philippines, working a farm and taking in orphaned kids. When the California brother is diagnosed with Hepatitis C, the father takes him and his sister in search of their siblings, in hopes that one will provide a liver transplant. In keeping squarely with family-comedy convention, everyone overcomes their issues and the family is reunited in the end.

“It’s like Jack and Jill, but twice as interesting!” the posters might say. The movie’s twist on the estranged-sibling formula is that the American brother and sister are straight while the Filipino ones are gay (bakla, I learned, is a Filipino term for homosexual). Sexual orientation is never an issue in the movie; and in contrast to a Hollywood family comedy, the poorer characters actually vent their feelings of class resentment towards the rich ones. These resentments are immediately resolved once the family learns to get along, but I was surprised that the movie raised them at all.

I was also surprised to learn that Ganda is a major star in the Philippines, appearing on a couple of TV shows and a series of commercials for the Filipino company Globe Telecom (in Sandler fashion, he brazenly hawks their products in Boy, Girl). Two of his previous vehicles are the most successful Filipino productions ever made. Boy, Girl is the sort of resolutely campy comedy that rarely plays Chicago beyond the Reeling Film Festival.

Ben Sachs writes about moviegoing every Monday.