Pretty Boys is an open letter to Indonesia’s entertainment industry delivered by the inside men, if not prodigies, of the said industry. The director, Teuku Adifitrian a.k.a. Tompi (who made quite a reputation as a jazz singer, surgeon, and presenter), is a long-time player in the industry. Imam Darto, who penned the script, has long been renowned as a radio announcer, before making a leap as a talk-show presenter. The leads—Vincent Rompies and Deddy Mahendra Desta—started off as bandmates before establishing themselves as one of Indonesia’s most prominent comedy presenters infamous for their spontaneity and quips. While uplifting and buffoonish, Pretty Boys showcases a candid, unapologetic, and unobstructed portrait of the industry ludicrously.
The story follows the struggle of two childhood friends, Anugrah (Vincent) and Rachmat (Desta), as they pursue their urban dream—to become television personalities. As kids, they envisioned themselves as family quiz presenters like their idols, Sonny Tulung, Dede Yusuf, and others. To pursue their dream, the BFFs flee to Jakarta, the country’s economic and entertainment capital, only to discover the harsh life of the capital city. They have to live in a cheap, cramped apartment and take any available jobs, including cosplaying as Transformers characters and serving in a local bar, where they befriend a fellow employee, Asty (portrayed by an indie musician, Danilla Riyadi). It wasn’t until they meet a fake-crowd organizer in a TV show, Roni (former post-hardcore musician turned comedian, Onadio Leonardo) that the duo finally knocks on the door to stardom.
Spearheaded by Vincent and Desta’s ceaseless chemistry, Pretty Boys never runs out of energy. The goofballs are having the real fun delivering their iconic sketches and, even, making some meta-jokes about their real-life career. Owning the rhythm by heart and meticulously knowing where to land their next beat, Vincent and Desta are natural, flaunting the idea that the pretty-boy roles are specifically written for them.
While going on full-length comedy spree, Pretty Boys attempts to add some dramatic elements to spice up and maintain balance in the story. Vincent’s Anugrah a.k.a. Nugie gets promoted into a more dramatic character with romantic set-ups with Danilla’s character and a feud with his father (portrayed by Roy Marthen). Desta’s Rachmat a.k.a. Matthew gets relegated to a mere problematic catalyst to the movie’s conflicts. While Anugrah’s backstories are given full-blown exposition, Rachmat’s story is often overshadowed, making him a less relevant character. Imam Darto’s story, however, is quite clever in connecting all the dots, including juxtaposing Anugrah and his father’s different yet similar choice of career, even when some are weaker than others.
The most interesting (and yet problematic) element of Pretty Boys is how they, candidly, strips off Indonesia’s entertainment industry down to its core. The industry’s toxic nature is depicted honestly, even when the filmmakers tend to tone down the delivery with some over-the-top hilarity and meta-jokes. At times, the whole movie almost feels like a confession. Set mostly behind the scene of a talk show, Pretty Boys exposes how fabricated the industry is—with paid, fake-crowds; quality-neglected, rating-oriented shows; and insensitive exploitation of trans-people, an issue that bothers Anugrah’s mind. The filmmakers understand what issues to address but, at some points, they are not sensitive enough in addressing gender issues with some elements of the movie still catch the symptoms of toxic masculinity.
On the surface, Pretty Boys is a well-intended comedy about the reality of the Indonesian entertainment industry as observed by BFFs—made alive by Vincent & Desta’s natural chemistry. Its level of hilarity never slows down for the whole duration. It’s a solid debut for Tompi and Imam Darto in the country’s movie industry. What they need to improve in the future is an upgrade in the level of sensitivity.