Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
You see your class advisor Ms Betty (LJ Moreno) being manhandled in the parking lot by her abusive fiancé do you: a.) Run to the principal and report the incident b.) Shut up about it because you don’t want to embarrass Ms. Betty or c.) Send her an anonymous email telling her how hot she is (which is true) and give Neanderthal man the boot? These are the real world questions that students face in the film ‘Senior Year’ by Jerrold Tarog showing on March 9, 2011 at SM Cinemas.
The feature is actually a sequel to his short film “The Faculty” which also stars Che Ramos as an idealistic teacher Jo Ann. She transfers to high school from teaching in college to get to the students earlier and make a greater impact on their lives. “The Faculty” was part of Cinemalaya and has been aired in the ANC network and is a huge hit on YouTube. “Senior Year” qualified as one of the first batch of independent films that were part of the Metro Manila Film Fest just last December (2010). Jerold also incidentally directed the “Funeraria” episode in “Shake Rattle and Roll 12” in the main competition of the MMFF. The episode starred Carla Javellana and Sid Lucero. For pics from MMFF click on this link.
Insecurities of high school are transferred to a reunion. The film switches from flashbacks in the last months of their senior year to a reunion a decade later. Now the pressure to achieve fame, material and personal success is even greater. The grown up cast includes RJ Ledesma, Ina Feleo, Kalila Aguilos, Dimples Romana and Arnold Reyes. Part of the fun is figuring out who the grown up versions are of the kids. RJ Ledesma is frozen with insecurities seeing his old classmates immediately before the reunion. His voice over says, “We’re not so cute anymore. Pumunta rin ako para malaman sino mataba, sino kalbo…”
The longer screen time belongs to the young cast which has been wonderful in capturing the teen angst and even triumphs. It’s also funny. Bunda played by Franzes Bunda is nearly six feet tall, she protects her smaller friends like Carlo (Daniel Medrana) from bullies. The characters remind us of people from our own experiences. Henry is the honor student who has overweight issues. Sophia is the wall flower who has extremely religious parents. Solenn played by Nikita Conwi is the pretty girl who is into fashion.
The film is also visually dynamic having music video portions set to Johnoy Danao’s sound track. Graphics are used to highlight their names and what’s going on. There are some similarities with the immensely popular TV series ‘Glee.’ Just like the show, it celebrates uniqueness. The nerds the so called social ‘outcasts’ in school are the stars. Nearly everybody can relate to that awkward stage, when they’re still struggling with identities. Even now as adults some of us still struggle with determining who we are and our purpose in this world.
The film was shot including the student assemblies and even graduation ball of a real school: Elizabeth Seton in Las Piñas. The ball was shot in Shangri La Makati. Tarog said that it has always been his style to “mix fiction with reality.” The younger cast was also from the school and their personalities were matched with their characters. “Although, the stories aren’t really about them. But we matched their personalities with the roles. Para kayang kaya nila portray.”
The only professional actor in the younger cast is Daniel Medrana which is a complete turnaround from his previous role as a gang banger in Pepe Diokno’s “Engkwentro”. In “Senior Year” he’s a young and frail gay teenager named Carlo. Jerold adds, “Every time we’d cut the scene he reverts to his male self and we all laugh on the set.”
What makes ‘Senior Year’ better than ‘Glee’ is the strong emphasis on teachers. Angeli Bayani is Teacher Mars, LJ Moreno is the teacher everyone has a crush on Ms Betty. Che Ramos is that strong presence that inspires her students. Ramon Bautista is the crazy Basketball coach. Occasionally, teachers also learn from their students just like in the case of Ms Betty. Jerold wrote the script specifically for Che Ramos, “Ganun siya ka hyper and I wanted to tap that energy into a teacher’s role.”
Ramos in real life confesses that as a Sociology major in U.P., rallies and picketing were part of her college experience. There was this scene where she brings her students to a rally to experience life in both “The Faculty” and “Senior Year.” Ramos was able to summarize the film, “High school is a place where you don’t know where you’re going. Jerold is really good in putting it all together. The film is about hope. And it’s good to contribute to that message.”