Friday, February 28, 2014

ABNKKBSNPLAko?! the Movie (2014)

Mark Meily's ABNKKBSNPLAko?! the Movie: Fun Overtaking Depth

The pleasures of Bob Ong’s ABNKKBSNPlako?! are not hinged on its generic plot but on its unabashed appreciation of all things close to being forgotten from decades past. While the book namedrops various references to 80’s and 90’s pop culture to tickle its readers’ fancies, what really makes Ong’s first published work so memorable is its depiction of what seems to be a shared attitude towards a recent past. Sure, the book does rely on shallow nostalgia, but at least it does so with such colloquial flair that it is almost impossible not to get hooked into its

It is therefore not surprising that the book is eventually made into a movie. Directed by Mark Meily, the movie version approximates the book’s informal charms with a bit of visual inventiveness. Narrations are accompanied by quickly edited montages. Words of juvenile love letters pop out from the paper with mock elegance. Meily has quite a bag of tricks here, and he’s definitely not scrimping.

Nostalgia is much easier to translate. Meily, armed with the entire arsenal of copyrighted material of Viva at his disposal, has direct references to Maryo J. de los Reyes’ Bagets, the movie that best represents the youth of the 80’s, and Sharon Cuneta’s wispy chirping of George Canseco’s High School Life, a song that is to become an anthem for all things slight and mushy about high school. ABNKKBSNPlako?I the Movie, at least for the part of transporting its viewers to a time when Maricel Soriano and William Martinez’s surprising relationship was the butt of gossip, is quite successful.

Where the movie falters is when it tries to find relevance to its protracted reminiscence. The heart of the film’s narrative seems to be Bob Ong, played during his grade school days by Adrian Cabido and from high school to present by Jericho Rosales who does his best in a role that feels more like a caricature than a challenge, and his on and off love affair with his Special Someone, played by an unsatisfyingly static Andi Eigenmann. Their romance, depicted by Meily with obvious slightness, is tenuous at best and is very hard to root for. Considering that Bob Ong’s relationship with his two best friends, played ably by Vandolph Quizon and Meg Imperial, is given more weight, the romantic angle feels off-tangent and unnecessary.

The movie also attempts to touch on things more pertinent than long-standing crushes. Bob Ong’s journey from an ordinary grade-schooler to a high school teacher is one riddled with challenges that supposedly touch on or replicate experiences that are shared by most Filipinos. There is Bob Ong’s long-suffering mother, played wonderfully by Bing Pimentel, whose doting approach to her son’s heartaches and failures is quite touching. There is Bob Ong’s difficulty to finish college, which is the logical result of youthful uncertainty and emotional distress. There is Bob Ong’s qualms of attending his high school reunion as only a teacher with a paltry salary.

However, the movie’s insistence on evoking certain life lessons is overtaken by visual gimmickry and an overreliance on throwbacks to the past. Meily can never seem to balance nostalgia and depth. He instead throws everything into the mix and comes up with a product that confuses as much as it entertains.

The past few years have produced films that did what ABNKKBSNPLAko!? the Movie was intending to do but with better results. Aureaus Solito’s Pisay (Philippine Science, 2007), about a group of gifted high-schoolers in the Philippines’ national science school, mixes themes on young romance, ambition, defeat, and individuality in a package that is rift with humor and levity. Jerrold Tarog’s lovely Senior Year (2010), which also dealt with an underachiever returning to his high school, is less about nostalgia but about the fragility of growing up among friends and competitors in a school setting.

In the midst of the quality of what has been done before, Meily’s effort to mine on Bob Ong’s popular first book is unfortunately quite lacking in substance. It just severely pales in comparison, forcing it to make up for what it does not have with fun trivialities.

(First published in Rappler.)

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