‘I Am Not Big Bird’ delivers a lot of raunchy laughs but shows a lot of room to grow

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – I Am Not Big Bird, the latest film by director Victor Villanueva (My Paranormal Romance, Patay na si Hesus), is best summed up by a single scene: Carps (Enrique Gil) is on the receiving end of a slap from a random Thai gentleman at a bar. The man then goes on a tirade in his native language, blaming our obsession with large penises as one of the chief sources of male insecurity — and, therefore, toxic masculinity. The subtitles, however, are displayed onscreen at escalating speeds, turning the speech into a visual gag where the message moves too quickly to be read.

For all the risks it takes (and it takes a LOT), I Am Not Big Bird comes off as a film much more focused on being funny than on being meaningful. It shies away from having real moments of vulnerability, displaying more bravado than bravery. 

Does that make it a bad comedy? Certainly not. There’s a lot to enjoy in its 90+ minute runtime, which breezes by with all the laughs it delivers. But it also certainly could have been better had its writing and direction taken cues from modern sex comedies.


I Am Not Big Bird tells the story of Carps, a 30-something virgin who is dumped by his long-suffering girlfriend Cathy (Ashley Rivera), who has had enough of being sexless for five years. He reconnects with his buddies July (Red Ollero) and Macky (Nikko Natividad), and eventually comes to the conclusion that what he really needs to get over his feelings is to travel with them to Thailand and get laid.

However, when they arrive in Thailand, Carps is mistaken for the legendary adult film star Big Bird, whose massive member draws attention to Carps’ insecurities about his own below-average bulge. Complicating matters even further is the fact that Big Bird has been missing from the public eye in recent years and has a colorful cast of characters — including some porn gangsters — hunting him down.

It seems prudent at this point in the review to clarify that sex tourism isn’t a viable solution for emotional problems, contrary to what early 2000s adult comedies might have suggested. I Am Not Big Bird is, in essence, a peer to those in humor and spirit; it’s more The Hangover and Euro Trip than Sex Education or Joy Ride. The latter two create an ebb and flow between comedy and substance, whereas the former rely on shock and audacity to fill out their runtimes.

Much of the film’s shortcomings stem from the director’s inability to care about the characters on an emotionally resonant level, something he pulled off marvelously in Patay na si Hesus. It’s hard to want the three boys to rebuild their friendship when most of their time together is spent on shallow interactions and mentions of how Carps doesn’t care anymore. It certainly doesn’t help that Enrique offers a much more textured performance than Red or Nikko, who might have been hampered by a script that too often reduces them to caricatures — July is loud and fat, and Macky is G-A-Y gay.

Macky’s character is especially done a disservice by how he’s written. Lilit Reyes and Joma Labayen seem to believe that the best way to show audiences in 2024 that a character is gay is to have him disgusted by vaginas and lusting over his muscle-bound torturers. It’s also unfortunate that one of the film’s jokes uses his being molested as a punchline, which doesn’t do LGBTQIA+ audiences any favors in the real world.

However, when the screenplay works, the actors work some magic. Enrique nails the subtleties of male insecurities in the moments he’s allowed to express them, bringing a sense of sympathy to a film that could’ve used more of it. Ashley, small as her role may have been, goes full ham as Cathy, making each of her scenes a standout. Pepe Herrera, who plays the shady tour guide Prajak Tithi (yes, you read that right), is on top form and steals the spotlight every time he graces the screen.

The humor itself is a mixed bag, featuring both inventive jokes and outdated ones. One of the most clever gags involves a semi-public plea for Carps to finally have sex with Cathy, in full awkward view of a helper just trying to do her job. Another comedic highlight is the inevitable breakdown between Carps, July, and Macky, which somehow ends up in a bottomless wrestling match. 

For each bright spot, however, there is a problematic one, which ultimately shows us that we still have a long way to go when it comes to sex comedies. It’s possible that the film’s creators understood just how difficult it is to even get one produced in the first place, given how repressive Filipino society can be on the matter, and just decided to take every risk they could. While those risks don’t always pay off, there is some merit to having taken them in the first place. It’s just a matter of slowing down a little and evaluating them first.

Given all this, the most accurate thing to be said about I Am Not Big Bird is that its reception depends heavily on the viewer. There’s a lot to enjoy about it if you just want a riotous time at the movies and if you want to see Enrique Gil really stretch his wings. This reviewer will also always lean towards supporting Filipino films because the more we watch them, the more likely producers will take risks on some truly excellent material. Buy tickets to local films.

But for viewers who are looking for a little bit more substance in their comedies, and for those who prefer more modern sensibilities when it comes to sex-related matters, the film might not be as funny. They’ll find several missed opportunities, a few unnecessary moments, and a lack of real heart.

For either audience, however, I Am Big Bird does deliver on its biggest promise: the raunchiest laughs we’ve had in Filipino cinema yet. And that is something worth checking out.

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