Review by Oggs Cruz
While Confessional (2007) and Mangatyanan (The Blood Trail, 2009) are all very well made films, introducing director Jerrold Tarog as a very able and promising filmmaker, Carpool (2006), a short film that is mostly set inside a car where friends are rambling about a recent break-up, indicated Tarog's ability to capture youth's virtues and vices, from its loose sense of camaraderie to its abject frivolities. Senior Year, although it is the supposed sequel to Faculty (2010), a short film that featured a debate regarding social activism in schools, shares more of its moods and devices with Carpool than any of Tarog's previous works. The film, drowning its melancholic overview of adulthood with charm and gratifying levity, is simply irresistibly delightful.
The film is very modest in scope. Mostly limiting itself with the few months in the final year in high school of several students of a private school, the film feels like it is circling on dangerously familiar grounds, risking redundancy for the sake of convenient storytelling. However, the film, without burdening itself with pretenses of pertinence or relevance, communicates the universal truth of what really happens decades after the highs of high school, when the lows of the real world has consumed the optimism that youth can only fuel for so long.
The film starts with a man, bespectacled and in an obvious state of nervousness, sitting inside his car which is parked outside a high school where a homecoming of its alumni is about to happen. Self-deprecating quips, defensive remarks, and rationalizing witticisms prevent him from stepping out of his car, registering his name, and enjoying the homecoming. The man, several years ago, is the expected valedictorian, beaming with promise, which has not gone unnoticed by his teachers, one of whom instructs him to prepare a valedictory speech that would both inspire and incite social concern among his peers.
While it is happiness, depicted through moments of lighthearted banter and expressions of youthful love, that makes reminiscence pleasurable, it is disappointment and pleasurable that marks the past with utility to endure the banality of what lies ahead. Tarog thankfully details the high school experience with equal amounts of joy and pain. All of the film's characters are carved from stereotype. Tarog seems to acknowledge this, but instead of relying on the narrative crutches that working with a bevy of stereotypes provides, he concocts stories that are hardly complicated but fluently communicates the simple pleasures and hardships of that stage in life.
Senior Year is most enjoyable when the stories of the characters intertwine and erupt into a chorus of emotions that seem so distant now that we've preoccupied ourselves with more pertinent matters. Tarog, much more than delighting by reveling in the affairs of the youth, processes such delights to elicit a more spirited sense of nostalgia, one that is not only concerned with the past but as to how the past relates to the present. While the film is brimming with poignant moments, it is the unseen but certainly felt sense of regret that the alumni express, through casual jokes and remarks, while reminiscing that carries the film from being just another high school flick into a heartfelt portrait of our inevitable ordinariness in the midst of a world that is far bigger than any high school campus.