The newest local sapphic story to hit Filipino cinema and arrive at online streaming, Rookie, invites audiences to its wholesome and comedic tale revolving around the romance of transfer student Ace Asuncion (Pat Tingjuy) and Jana Ramos (Aya Fernandez). Released on Amazon Prime Video on Oct. 19, this queer coming-of-age romance has turned audiences starry-eyed for its lighthearted narrative.
First screened on Aug. 5, Rookie was a contender for the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. From the creative minds of director Samantha Lee and writer Natts Jadaone, the movie follows Ace as she navigates transferring schools and a budding romance with the volleyball team captain Jana.
With Ace entering her junior year in an all-girls Catholic school, she finds out there’s no basketball team for her to join. However, Coach Jules (Agot Isidro) encourages Ace to try out for the school’s volleyball team. Over time, Ace develops her skills and grows closer to her teammates.
Rookie brings in a mix of queer narratives, sports, and women’s issues while staying true to the nostalgic Filipino high school setting that has made viewers gush over this movie. While the film still has some improvements that can be made, it’s definitely a step forward in bringing more sapphic stories to Filipino audiences.
Racing hearts and butterflies in the stomach
While simple yet having a lot of kilig factor, Rookie immediately makes the audience’s hearts swoon. It captures the raw awkwardness of Filipino teenhood and its plot doesn’t make it all about “being queer” as seen in stereotypical queer media. From Ace giving Jana a small box of Ferrero chocolates to the cheesy line of “Mine mo na, baka ma-mine ng iba,” the movie screams Filipino high school romance.
Additionally, the movie also has some feel-good moments worth taking note of such as Ace’s mother (Cheryl Ramos-Cosio) gifting Ace a suit to use at prom. There’s also the scene in the movie’s epilogue wherein she starts to teach young girls how to play basketball and overhears Jana’s success as a volleyball player over the radio.
Besides the romantic plot, Rookie also attempts to bring forward crucial issues faced by women today such as sexual assault and predatory behavior by authoritative figures. This is seen in the sub-plotline of introducing Coach Kel (Mikoy Ramos) wherein his issues are only quietly resolved by school administrators, not giving proper justice to the students who reported his illicit acts towards the volleyball team.
However, some issues that came with Rookie’s plot include the fast-pacing of the story and romance. One can notice how quickly Ace was accepted into the volleyball team after the first day of tryouts. Moreover, Ace and Jana’s relationship happened too fast. From having disdain for each other to immediately catching glimpses, there could’ve been a better build-up for their romance. Nonetheless, their relationship is somewhat of an authentic portrayal of young queer love.
In terms of characterization, Tingjuy and Fernandez have shown strong chemistry. On the other hand, Jana’s father (Simon Ibarra) is portrayed as pressuring Jana into excelling in volleyball like her mother who passed away. But later on, viewers see how Jana’s father had a sudden change of heart which wasn’t exactly outlined throughout the story.
Visually, the movie is reminiscent of 2000s Asian films. With its toned-down colors and gently-lit sceneries, watching Rookie turns back time to one’s youth, filled with excitement and a little bit of drama. Furthermore, its score doesn’t overshadow what’s happening in the film, instead, it accentuates further the important scenes such as when Ace and Jana finally get together during prom.
Moving on to the issues the film also wants to tackle, Rookie struggles to create a smooth flow on how issues such as sexual assault and predatory behavior can be integrated. While it portrays the reality of how these issues are handled in school settings, how they’re presented in the movie seems too fast-paced which could be due to budget issues.
Hitting a win-streak for the queer community
Overall, Rookie shows great potential and opens a door for more local queer stories. In a country wherein the LGBTQIA+ community is only being tolerated and not being fully accepted, narratives like Rookie could push queer representation much further. It could give more Filipinos a chance to understand queer issues better and why the community must have the SOGIE Bill enacted in the country. Alternatively, the movie serves as an avenue to open discussion on longstanding problems silently faced by students, especially when these issues ironically happen in supposed safe spaces.
As a lighthearted queer romance film, Rookie has become a must-watch for those who are yearning for local sapphic narratives. While the film still could use some improvements, it’s still worth checking out as it brings something new to the table for Filipino queer media.
You can catch the romantic tale between Ace and Jana in Rookie, streaming on Amazon Prime Video.