Big Boy (2011) takes place in the aftermath of the second world war, in Middle of Nowhere, Mindoro. The opening credits roll to the sound of 1950’s radio adverts, then cut immediately to water dripping into a milk can, and then what the censors would refer to as a “pumping scene” between a couple we will later find out are the parents of our protagonist: Julio, aka Big Boy.
Julio is the eldest in a brood that grows far too large to adequately sustain itself, and thus becomes not only the guinea pig but the poster boy for a growth serum that will serve as the family’s antidote to its despondency. Julio’s parents cure “cod liver” oil from fish guts in a makeshift lab, its effectiveness proven only in photographs that portray him as taller than average.
His growth spurts are notched on the bamboo poles supporting the family nipa hut. This way, approval from his father seems welcome, but Julio must pay for it according to the strictures of scientific method. His siblings run free; he has grown distant from the village. He seems mute, wearing a doleful look. Julio has become Big Boy, the mascot of his father’s entrepreneurial spirit, deep in the fastnesses of Mindoro. One day he stops growing.
At the beginning of Big Boy, the family finds a parachute filled with canned goods, vitamins, and other basic commodities “mysteriously” caught in a tree on their property. What should have been a source of temporary relief becomes a sole means of survival for the family, who increasingly derive a sense of value and dependency on American products and doleouts, which later becomes an obsession with a largely misguided reading of the American dream. Fixations on height, mestizo features, and U.S. Surplus goods abound in a plot that is slowly driven forward by the promises that await elsewhere.