Odie and Irene (Jason Abalos and Glaiza de Castro respectively) have been friends from school, and though they seem to be poles apart, their love for the local music scene has brought them closer. Now they’re best friends. One day, Irene hears one of Odie’s own compositions. She comes up with the idea of putting up a band. Though initially reluctant, Odie soon finds people to fill up the group: an ex-punk coffeeshop staff Mo (Ketchup Eusebio) and the emotionally labile Junfour (Alwyn Uytingco). Even before I could correctly enumerate the complete names of the original members of the Eraserheads, the group suddenly finds themselves a gig! What’s better, Matet de Leon (yes, one of Nora Aunor’s children) offers to manage them, shows them the ropes, introduces them to the movers and shakers of the scene.
When Jacci Rocha (Diether Ocampo), flamboyantly high profile lead singer of “Baron Munchausen” enters the picture, Irene succumbs to his charms. Hapipaks (the band's name) starts recording songs and making a music video of their first coming-out single. The group is suddenly thrown into a maelstrom that envelopes this vibrant underworld, all the while struggling to deal with their domestic lives: Mo is conflicted living with his eccentric artist friend; Junfour learns that his girlfriend is pregnant; and shy Odie can’t reveal his feelings for Irene. Why is everyone miserable when their dreams are coming true?
Quark Henares revealed in a talk show that “Rakenrol” was a wish fulfillment project. In fact, it’s taken him 5 years to make. He wished to translate a moment in his younger years when he would navigate this subculture of struggling, albeit talented musicians. Alas, where’s the thrill and urgency? Though the first half of the narrative is told in brisk chapters, the latter half soon dwindles into prosaic storytelling. The bristling introduction hopelessly turns into one drab exposition.
For the most part, the story loses steam in translating the vibrancy of that music subculture. As is depicted on screen, this was a world populated by people who look like they haven’t bathed in 5 years, no, make it ten! They were struggling (artistically and otherwise), aberrant, capricious and completely unrelatable. What’s worse, when Hapipaks finally plays their main number, “Oplan Pag Ibig”, it was nothing more than pedestrian. Sure, their audience was jumping up and shouting, but you can’t fake great music! And great it wasn’t!
Now let’s get into the casting. I’ve always found Jason Abalos a sincere actor, except in a cinematic crap called “Handumanan” (one of the worst films in two decades), but does Abalos embody the persona of how we perceive musicians should be? I think it’s clear he doesn’t, which makes this foray a little too disconnected. It’s like doing a biopic on Lea Salonga with, say, Kris Bernal portraying her. Doesn’t work. Abalos is probably too dour to represent a figure head! Maybe Abalos represented the shy and self effacing Henares? Maybe, since Quark is the epitome of a well grounded guy who admits his triumphs as graciously as his failures (In the aforementioned interview, he considers “Keka” as his greatest achievement, while “Super Noypi” as his worst – didn’t I say it here?)
But cinema is a medium that needs emphasis by writing such statements in bigger, bolder strokes. This is exactly the reason why when we want to propagandize personalities, we choose high profile celebrities. This is the same reason why a little known murder victim like Lilian Velez becomes Sharon Cuneta on screen; why Jericho Rosales had to portray the younger Manny Pacquiao in “Pacquiao: The Movie” instead of the likes of Mark Herras or Carlos Agassi. My point is, when you need a poster boy to represent a habitué from that oh-so exciting underworld, you require gravitas; not someone with the verve of a complacently growing pumpkin.
We love Glaiza de Castro’s Emma in Katski Flores’ “Still Lives” and as Isabel in Rommel Sales’ “I-Libings”. She has somehow proven that an inferior Angel Locsin she isn’t, but if she’s indeed the Irene in “Rakenrol” (as her Facebook pronouncements would say, “Ako to!”) then Glaiza doesn’t paint a flattering picture of a rock and roll vixen. The portrait is wanting; the brew is tepid. Listening to her sing her bubblegum song, “Patingin-tingin” (from her 1st and only CD) was more enjoyable by leaps and bounds than having her rock it out here!
Diether Ocampo must have pleasurably crapped himself portraying the gaudy, resplendent, and downright splashy Jacci Rocha, but his portrayal is too out-there to be truly enjoyable. Parodies only work when there’s ample moderation, and Ocampo’s portrayal just shoots through the roof. There are a few more items on our list why “Rakenrol” is a snooze, but the ones mentioned have been the most blatant.
How do you find a band drummer, for example? Choose the school bully! That way, he can channel his frustrations by way of hitting his drums. Brilliant, right? Sounds like quack therapy to me. I didn't think it's funny so I scoff. Ketchup Eusebio plays Mo as smugly as Jacci Rocha swaggers with confidence. Eusebio should be here to pay homage to a departed online critic for whom this film was dedicated. Unfortunately, Eusebio's winking portrayal doesn't depart from a less regarded Smokey Manaloto! I'd choose the latter for his genuine humor - anytime.
As the film moves to its conclusion, the narrative shimmies into a plateau. Is there really a plausible moral of the story? When its protagonists are as plain, homely and tentative as the ones in this film, I couldn't give a damn! They might as well give me a shot of epinephrine before I flat line out of disinterest.
That the film won an "Audience Choice Award" in Los Angeles is a bit of a mystery to me. Mainly, it goes to show how some film festivals abroad can be so apocryphal. It's as ambiguous as when "Twilight Dancers" is supposedly hailed at the Toronto Filmfest. Ditto the execrable, vomit-inducing "Fidel" at the Berlin Filmfest, and the underdeveloped "Thelma" at the Hawaiian Filmfest. You just have to scratch your nape and believe that a parallel universe exists. Otherwise, such things wouldn't happen.
Quark Henares may have fulfilled his wish list. But this was a personal story that somehow wasn’t worth sharing. Not to a paying crowd, anyway. If this were an invitation to a subcommunity, I’d say, no thanks. It’s too small scale and unexciting. More importantly, the people looked like they smell.
The iconic Ely Buendia cameos: "You have to play, man... for us!" You gotta be kidding me.