The Senior Year Experience
by Jansen Musico
Senior Year is a sequel to Faculty, Jerrold Tarog’s short film centered on Joan (Che Ramos) and Ria (Bea Garcia), two teachers with two strong opposing views on education. The impactful short was well-recieved by both critics and audiences for its sharp dialogue and eye-opening take on the Philippine educational system. Viewers of Faculty would probably still remember its biting finale, which, this time, serves as the launching pad to this new full-length offering that takes us back to our last days in high school.
Now a teacher at St. Frederick’s High School, Joan finds herself shepherding a batch of graduating kids to be the future movers and shakers of society. One in particular is Henry (Aaron Balana), the batch shoo-in for valedictorian who’s finding a hard time mentoring his supposed stalker, the calm and quiet Sofia (Rossanne de Boda). She’s often staring into space admiring the beauty of Solenn (Nikita Conwi), the batch’s saucy queen bee who’s bestfriends with high school power couple Briggs (Daniel Lumain) and Bridget (Mary Lojo). Another couple, though not official, are the the anti-it pair of Chito (Eric Marquez) and Mitch (Celina Peñaflorida). These two serve as the all-knowing eyes of the school, often dispensing advice to the trio: the ever-protective Bunda (Francez Bunda), the secretly-admired Steph (Sheila Bulanhagui), and the out and proud Carlo (Daniel Medrana).
Now don’t think that this is another Dead Poets Society, The Breakfast Club, or even Aureus Solito’s Pisay. It’s not. Tarog’s version of high school is fresh, yet familiar enough for everyone to feel like they’re walking down the halls of their own alma maters, whether you’re still in or out of it. High school alumni would probably get a blast from the past as soon as the lives of the characters start playing out. It’s a disorienting onslaught of uniforms, teachers, names, libraries, classrooms, cafeterias, and gymnasiums. It’s as if we’re exchange students getting our first taste of the campus, but all of this fades away once all the introductions are done. Soon enough we start laughing and gasping as the all-too-familiar high school feelings start creeping in.
The film makes use of stereotypes; why shouldn’t it? High school, for a fact, is full of labels and people who wear them proudly. There are jocks, bullies, popular kids, and those who fall way out of the radar. Despite the restrictions of adhering to stereotypes, the seniors still burst out from being one-dimensional paper dolls into human beings. This can be attributed to the well thought out story. Each character in the film does not only put on stereotypes, they play real students who go through real problems high school kids face, such as finding the right college, discovering their sexual preferences, falling in and out of love, and the like. For this reason, it was the perfect decision by Tarog to assemble a cast composed of real students and indie heavyweights.
Che Ramos, so far, can do no wrong. Though her character is less serious this time around, she still fully embodies the enthusiastic educator she played in the short prequel. As for her students, all of them do well, but three, in particular, shine. The first one’s Nikita Conwi, whose take on your typical airhead Solenn was spot on. She’s that perfect Candy girl you just love to hate, but admire at the same time. The second solid performer is Daniel Medrana, who notably played Raymond in Pepe Diokno’sEngkwentro. In Senior Year, he does 180 to play the flamboyant, effeminate Carlo, and he just nails it. He’s able to adapt dramatically by switching from serious to hilarious. Whether he’s being tormented or exchanging quips with Bunda, he delivers. Rounding up the best teens is Celina Peñaflorida, who fully embraces the two sides of her character: apathetically cool and insecure.
Technically, the film is good. This does not come as a surprise since the people at the helm have always been consistent with their work. Mackie Galvez was able to carry over the visual feel of Faculty. By also adding raw footage of the students at school, he and Jerrold preserved a semblance of reality. Johnoy Danao’s songs were also a nice touch, gently cradling the movie at just the right points.
What separates this film from previous high school flicks is its unique glimpse of the future. The narrative seesaws from the batch’s senior year to alumni reunion, showing the progress of the characters’ lives. The parallelisms of past and present are all too revealing, not only of the changes in each of the students, but also of real life. The gaping differences effectively weigh expectations and ideals against realities. They give commentary on change and how change is carried out. To give the ending out now would be an injustice to those who have not had the chance to see this film. But just know this, if you thought Faculty’s zinger was optimistic, Senior Year’s last line will give you a lot to contemplate.