Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mark Meily's "ABNKKBSNPLAko?! The Movie" - Plotless Nostalgia

Bob Ong is a lot of things, except a popular Filipino author's real name. He is a teacher, a web developer and an author of contemporary books that mostly tackle Pinoy pop culture. He fetchingly writes in a very conversational tone that when you get hold of any of his books, you're likely to finish it right where you started flipping its pages. "Bob Ong" is in fact a pseudonym that derived itself from a word play of a website he developed, "Bobong Pinoy" (Dumb Filipino). "Bobong..." eventually evolved into an author's name. "Bob... ong..."

So let's call him Mr. Ong whose writing style is laidback and fancy-free you might as well be leisurely reading a book in a park. Ong's topics are mostly observational. He takes to list-making, and does so with delectable humor. In "Bakit Baliktad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pinoy", for example, he lists down tips on how to gracefully say goodbye to the world. In another, he offers a checklist that satisfies a criteria on being a compulsive gambler. Yet again, in another, he enumerates items on how to make your jeepney 100% Pinoy. In "Ang Paboritong Libro ni Hudas", sassily designed in obsidian hue, he offers his insight on "terrorist teachers". He also examines the veracity of commercial products, i.e. "pampatigas", "pampaputi ng kutis", etc. He lists down two to three pages of odd terminologies of the different kinds of phobias. His language comfortably vacillates between Tagalog and English as when he writes about an American visitor's take on Pinoy culture. In "Lumayo Ka Nga Sa Akin", he welcomes his readers to a 3D movie, thus what you get to read is a movie script. Perfect really when the same book is being groomed into another Wenn Deramas film starring Maricel Soriano, right?

More importantly, Ong does not believe that his novels are "translatable" to film language the way author Yan Martell ("Life of Pi") didn't think his novel was "filmable" until Ang Lee came into the picture. Then there was Ramon Bautista's "Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo?" which fortuitously did the impossible, under the able hands of the zany Joyce Bernal. How did they convince Ong to agree? "In Mark Meily we trust" was Viva film executives' reassurance to the author whom they never met; not even when they handed him his cheque as payment for the film's rights. But is director Mark Meily really as capable as you'd like to think? Meily may have "Crying Ladies", "Donor" and "La Visa Loca" under his over-sized belt, but he also has the school playish "Baler" (with Anne Curtis before she was capable of buying me, my friends and a whole bar).

Jericho Rosales is Roberto Ong.
The film chronicles Roberto’s (Jericho Rosales) 17 years as a student, and the growing up he’s had to do with a bevy of characters: his nurturing Nanay Lucing (Bing Pimentel) and his absentee father (Julio Diaz) who’s a seaman; his two closest friends Ulo (Vandolph Quizon) and Portia (Meg Imperial) who harbors a crush on him; and his Special Someone (Andi Eigenmann) who’s eternally unavailable.

In the story, Roberto struggles in class, barely completing his academic goals, but eventually succeeding, and even becoming a teacher in the process. The stories flip through a timeline  peppered with issues familiar to a generation: prom dates, peer pressure, school crushes, pimples, passing fads, tech gadgets – in this case, Nokia’s 3310 (a familiar object in Ong’s novels); anonymous letters and unrequited loves; and a nostalgia-coated soundtrack that exquisitely captures the temperament of the 80’s (Sharon Cuneta’s “High School”, Martin Nievera’s “On the Right Track”, Odette Quesada’s “Friend of Mine”, etc.) and 90’s (Neocolour’s “Tuloy Pa Rin”). This further stretches on as he applies for college (UE, PUP, CEU, PLM, Lyceum) in a range of courses from marketing to computer science, and settling down with a vocational course in computer programming (which makes you wonder how Roberto eventually became a teacher).

If you’re one taken to nostalgia, there should be plenty to amuse you here. After all, this has Jericho Rosales, one of the most competent actors of his generation. Unfortunately, there’s an obvious degree of disconnect that repudiates the viewer’s commitment to the running narrative. This is mainly because the film is almost plotless; it was like watching a compendium of supposedly hilarious or wistful remembrances. With hardly any tension to hold the narrative aground, it was hard to invest a degree of empathy. I was personally unaffected and uninterested. The story in fact failed to relate or compel. The gags didn't pick up as they should. It was like riding a Ferris Wheel or roller coaster without the requisite ascents and dips or that breath-taking swirl.

Jericho Rosales is no doubt an insightful actor but at some point we had to suspend disbelief with all our might just to swallow the idea that Rosales was still in high school and that he’s within the same age range as Meg Imperial or Andi Eigenmann. While I understand the deterrent of picking an actor who could both play the shy high school student and the grown up teacher, this isn't really a valid excuse to just settle for the good actor who could pull out the magic tricks. Roles don’t just rely on thespic brilliance alone, but physical requirements as well. You just don’t pick Meryl Streep to play Wonder Woman or Nicholas Cage to play Superman just because they’re terrific actors. They have to look the part.

Should the movie watching crowd really be compelled to read the novel from which a film was based just so they’d “get it”? Absolutely not! A story, regardless of its source, should stand alone when adapted on film. They have to be adequately told in film language. Saying that reading a novel is a requirement to “understand” the film is really a vacuous disclaimer of a doubtful film maker. Saying so is a lazy excuse to what he unconsciously perceives as his film’s weaknesses.

As it turns out, we should not invest our infinite trust on Mark Meily. Not in street smart stories reeking with contemporary humor, at least. Despite his achievements, Meily doesn't have the sleek directorial raillery required to adapt Ong’s seminal ouvre, but then even Ong seems to have anticipated this. On its way to the celluloid, the director loses the essence and vibrant spirit of Ong's colorful coming-of-age. Meily could have benefited if he took tips from Joyce Bernal’s “Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo”. The temperament, the magazine-style employ of storytelling, the brisk and finger-snapping pace – these were elements that helped translate an unfilmable novel. But in Meily’s cinematic platter, Ong’s characters were nothing but droll people whose stories didn't deserve to be told. Meily just isn't as brilliant as others think he is.

Tender moment with mother and son (above); Teacher Giselle Sanchez "all-stretched out". The wonders of elasticity indeed. ;)

Andi Eigenmann plays the elusive "Special Someone".

Vandolph Quizon, Meg Imperial, Andi Eigenmann and Jericho Rosales

Jericho Rosales: Waiting to exhale.

Andi Eigenmann

Meg Imperial


Anonymous said...

mahirap atang seryosohin ang isang taong responsable sa el presidente.

- juan

Cathy Pena said...

Right. I distinctly remember what a struggle it was to watch "El Presidente". It was overwrought and reeking with self importance. It was a tiresome watch, but the "reviews" were bafflingly glowing.