Jerrold Tarog's "Senior Year" follows the last 4 months in the lives of the graduating class of St. Frederick's Academy, a well-heeled Catholic high school in Alabang with a hundred stories to tell.
There's brainy and hefty Henry (Aaron Balana) who's expected to run away with the Valedictorian plum. He is, in fact, agonizing over his Valedictory Address even before the formal declaration of the honor roll. He harbors special feelings for Sofia, a pretty lass who's more concerned with her social status in school than saving her down-spiraling grades. She eventually turns to the sophisticated Solenn (Nikita Conwi) who moves like a queen and carries herself like the next royalty. Meanwhile, there's young love constantly teetering on the brink of breaking up - Bridget, a campus beauty, and Briggs (Daniel Lumain), the class lothario.
There are plenty more side stories that inhabit this cinematic platter, each one as interesting as the next: The female class toughie Bunda who is a constant witness to domestic violence; sports jock Carlo and his minions who terrorize their limp-wristed basketball team mate; the suffering Mitch who craves to join the in-crowd; the teacher who's enduring an abusive relationship; the seemingly harmless anonymous letters sent to Steph by someone who turned out to be a girl. Did you say "enough"?
At some point in the movie, we had to close our eyes to catch our thoughts. It was a demanding exercise following this parade of little stories because just when you're starting to warm up to a character, a new set is introduced. It is difficult to emotionally invest complete empathy when these stories are just superficially grazed through in slap dash fashion. As far as I am concerned, story telling has to have focus. And it's just mentally impossible to aim your attention on 2 dozens of characters laid out in a 2-hour cinematic palette. It's easy to rationalize that this indeed is a story about high school, thus it is peppered with a hundred-and-one characters, but still there has to be ample character definition set on major characters. Having pointed that: "Senior Year" is nevertheless a good movie. It is entertaining, if a bit muddled - and at times confusing.
RJ Ledesma takes on the role of the adult Henry, the class valedictorian. His wistful concerns - while he waits in the car - as his indecision mounts to a fervid dilemma is palpable: would he find the nerve to meet his former classmates at their 10th year anniversary? After all, he didn't become the physician that he was meant to be, but another call center agent. Dimples Romana, as the adult Sofia, provides warmth and a sense of denouement to the iffy tale of Sofia (deftly played by Roxanne de Boda).
Most of the young cast does well: energetic, charming, effusive in expression, but aren't most "kids"? De Boda, Nikita Conwi and Daniel Lumawin register very well, possessing the natural instincts that make actors effective chameleons, they could grace our screens in the coming years and I won't complain.
We have a problem, once again, with Ina Feleo who plays the adult Mitch, and Arnold Reyes as the adult Carlo. They appear at the Homecoming scenes with such smug demeanor, you could swear they devoured something absolutely piquant. Whatever it was, they didn't let us in on that. Kalila Aguilos makes a delectable cameo as the adult Solenn, we almost had to clap for the all-too-similar bearing of the two actresses who both played Solenn.
As to the little stories, isn't it a little too presumptuous to trouble oneself with a Valedictory speech 4 months before graduation? Four months is sometime November, which means there's a lot more exams, quizzes, preliminaries, finals. There's even the tallying of the extra-curricular activities to consider which Henry never seemed to bother with. Most of the time, he stares longingly at Sofia - or worry about his speech. Take my word for it, the speech is the last of your worries when you're running Valedictorian.
We have always admired Jerrold Tarog's story telling acumen. He is such a prolific litterateur that even his peanut gallery pleaser like "Shake, Rattle and Roll's Punerarya" is still a cut above mainstream clutter. Even his music is insightfully appropriate. He is yet to disappoint me as I am such a big fan of his "Confessional" as well as "Mangatyanan". Tarog is a major talent that we shall keep our eyes on in the coming years.
WHERE'S THE MOVIE CROWD?
Now, I shall digress on this issue of patronage of Filipino Films.
Time and again, we have read from online threads and discussion boards the sensible thoughts of seemingly intelligent movie goers who, like myself, continuously complain about mainstream movies churned out by the likes of Star Cinema, Regal Films, Viva Films and GMA Films. But as God is my witness, where are these high and mighty intellectuals? In the first quarter of 2011, very few Tagalog films opened for commercial exhibition, 90% of them vomit-inducing crap! Finally, last week, two good films opened. They weren't Pink Films. Neither were they produced by the aforementioned mainstream film productions. They boasted of a good cast as well, since many people complain about amateur actors. So what is the excuse?
WHERE ARE THE WHINERS?
I watched "Mayohan" (starring Lovi Poe) at the Galleria with my friend Kyle. Aside from us, there were 2 lonely souls watching it with us! Four people came to watch "Mayohan" on a Thursday night! I watched "Senior Year" in Megamall on a Wednesday evening with my mom. Aside from us, there were 4 people watching with us. Six people came to watch "Senior Year" on a Wednesday evening! So I ask again. Where's the darn crowd? Where are these intellectuals who, like me, keep whining about the absence of great Pinoy films? By Friday, the execrable Catherine Hardwicke film, "Red Riding Hood" opened, and both good Pinoy movies were sent to oblivion. So without much fanfare, I say, "Shame on you, Pinoy moviegoers!" You all deserve the cinematic stool that's being fed to you!