Whether you remember your days in high school so vividly they seem like yesterday, or see them as far distant memories that are already impossible to recall, you will undoubtedly find something to love in Senior Year. Director Jerrold Tarog assembles stories from a gamut of colourful, albeit stereotypical characters normally found in a high school campus: the bully and the bullied, the popular kids and the outsiders, the freaks and geeks, and so on. Although we’ve seen these characters countless times before, we’ve never seen them this authentic. Tarog’s characters, effortlessly remind us of an amusing classmate, the bully we loved to hate, our very own clique or a long-lost love. The dialogue and the plot resonate primarily because the characters are so familiar. We were those kids ten or twenty years ago.
Senior Year flips through the yearbook of St. Fredrick’s High School. It charts the journey of a motley crew of senior students four months before their graduation. Henry can’t seem to write a valedictory speech that will inspire his classmates. Carlo learns the true meaning of being a man. Bunda deals with domestic issues. Steph discovers the identity of her secret admirer. Briggs breaks up with his girlfriend Bridget. Solenn teaches Sophia to come out of her proverbial shell. Mitch washes the dirt of revenge off her hands.
These events may be too trivial for us adults, but for high school students these are life-and-death scenarios. Senior Year transports us back to a time when an unflushed fecal matter can cause a commotion in the boy’s room and when losing the intramurals feels like losing a loved one. The events unfold in a brisk pace, moving from one trivial event to the next.
Senior Year doesn’t pretend that high school is the best time of our lives, because it isn’t. High school is nothing more than a fun experience that wouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. There are no life-changing decisions. Our crush does not turn out to be the love of our lives. We search for ourselves and continue to do so way past our adult life. We teach our enemies a lesson but we never learn. That’s high school. And a lot of high school movies have been telling us otherwise. Well, sorry to break it to you but the real high school is nothing like the movies.
Adding to the film’s authenticity is the amazing cast of no-names who played the students. During the first part, it’s hard to follow the individual stories of each member of the ensemble. It’s hard to distinguish one from the other. They all look the same–pimply, ordinary-looking, and all too real. Early standouts were Solenn (Nikita Conwi), with perfect and annoying conyo inflections, and Sophia (Rossanne de Boda), who goes from ugly duckling to beautiful swan. As we spend more time going through the motions of high school, we get to know each character and we are reminded of our imperfect selves back in the day. That’s nostalgia served with no garnish or embellishment.
Meanwhile, the teachers are played by professional actors. Che Ramos reprises her role as the idealistic teacher in Faculty, the Ambisyon 2010 short film. At this point, Che can do no wrong. As long as she keeps making the right films, she is on her way to getting the attention she richly deserves. Ramon Bautista essays the role of the gym teacher who urges his students to “work like a teamwork”, while LJ Moreno plays the role of an English teacher with an ‘abusive’ boyfriend.
Senior Year also gives us a peek of what happened 10 years after the students graduated from high school. Ina Feleo, Arnold Reyes, RJ Ledesma, Dimples Romana, and Kalila Aguilos play the older versions of some of the senior students with the same sass as their younger counterparts. Did the batch valedictorian turn out to be the success story his teachers are pimping him out to be? Did young love triumph over the obstacles of adulthood? And did the beautiful swan complete her metamorphosis?
Maybe, they did. But does it really matter? It doesn’t make us less of a person if we don’t turn out to be the person we are groomed to be. We are not a failure if we fall short of expectations. Senior Year teaches us to savor the moment, hope for the best, and stop worrying about the future.
*published on PEP