‘ABNKKBSNPLAko?! the Movie’ Review: Fun overtakes depth
MANILA, Philippines – 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 ‘80s and ‘90s pop culture to tickle readers’ fancies, what really makes Ong’s work so memorable is its depiction of what seems to be a shared attitude towards a recent past.
Sure, the book does rely on the device characterized by nostalgia, but at least it does so with such colloquial flair that it is almost impossible not to get hooked.
Bag of tricks
It is therefore not surprising that the book was eventually made into a movie. Directed by Mark Meily, the movie version approximates the book’s 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.
Meily, armed with the entire arsenal of copyrighted material of Viva at his disposal, shows off direct references to Maryo J. de los Reyes’ Bagets, the movie that best represents the youth of the ‘80s, plus there are snippets of Sharon Cuneta’s wispy chirping of George Canseco’s “High School Life,” an ‘80s anthem for life as a teen.
Where the movie falters is when it tries to establish the relevance of its reminiscences. 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. He does his best in a role that feels more like a caricature than a challenge.
The movie also highlights his on and off love affair with his Special Someone, played by an unsatisfyingly static Andi Eigenmann. Their romance 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 more than long-standing crushes. Bob Ong’s journey from an ordinary grade-schooler to a high school teacher is one riddled with challenges that touch on experiences shared by most Filipinos. There’s 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’s Bob Ong’s struggle to finish college, then his subsequent qualms about 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 at times by visual gimmickry and an over-reliance 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. Auraeus Solito’s Pisay (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 brimming 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 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. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.