As a study in book-to-movie adaptations, ABNKKBSNPLAKO gets poor grades

Director: Mark Meily
Screenplay: Ned Trespeces
Cast: Jericho Rosales, Andi Eigenmann, Meg Imperial, Vandolph Quizon

Mark Meily’s ABNKKBSNPLAKO movie experience is akin to being handed a present wrapped in a glossy package: it makes you giddy in excitement to see what’s inside, only to find that the box is empty and hollow.

The glossy wrappings are pleasing enough: we are taken a trip down memory lane through the eyes of Bob Ong, whose youth and naïveté was wonderfully portrayed by Adrian Cabido. Young Bob struggled with the innocuous evils of elementary education – corporal punishment, rainy days, gossipy cafeteria ladies, badly-timed stomach aches–and then morphs into an awkward pimply teen in high school. These are all conveniently triggered by a high school reunion which Bob (now played by Jericho Rosales) hesitates to attend, but goes anyway in the hopes of meeting his “special someone.”

1

Nostalgia is nice and easy, and this much is already guaranteed to us by the original material. The eponymous book gave us various references which tickles the fancies of a true blue 80’s kid while appealing to the general experience we’ve all likely to have had through years of education. The movie undoubtedly gave us this. Meily smartly clings to the nostalgia factor, but he  pulls a trick or two from his sleeves by adding spiffy lettering and animation to accompany the scenes, cleverly-edited flashbacks, and properly-cued and chosen music. In a rarely-seen maneuver, Rosales breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the audience. For a movie about the education system, however, it felt too neat and sharpened in an attempt to be witty, seemingly afraid to be too immersed in the context with which it finds itself in.

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Perhaps the standards may have been set too high. Bob Ong, the Author, has been a ubiquitous name in the local publishing scene ever since ABNKBBSNPLAKO, his magnum opus, which brought a fresh template for Filipino contemporary fiction. The book was rich in laughs as the author narrated his struggles in the educational system as a student, and then as a teacher afterwards. It wasn’t short on social commentaries either. Taking the leap to transform this work into the big screen was going to be a challenge, which the movie failed to step up on.

In itself, a film adaptation of a book is quite tricky. Although the movie has no obligation at fidelity with the book, striking a balance between two art forms is necessary, especially when the audience are likely patrons of the two. Having a book you want transformed into a movie, you ask which themes to emphasize and which scenes are meaningful enough to appear on the big screen. Here we see a very active source material which could have been the impetus for a movie about the educational system, a movie about life lessons in general, about learning and failing.  Sadly, in this aspect, the movie falls flat.

What Meily brings to the table was an unlikeable and off-tangent love story that was supposed to tie the movie together. Andi Eigenmann, Bob’s “special someone” felt so disconnected to his struggles that we can’t root for her to be the lead’s end game.

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By forcing love into the equation, we see the movie being squeezed to conform its content to commercial blockbusters, failing to trust its source material to carry the movie on its own. ABNKKBSNPLAKO, in the process of bringing it to the big screen, is pigeonholed into romance in order to attract a broader and less discerning audience.

There was hope for development with regard to the side characters – the doting mother, the loyal friends – but they all fell to the wayside. All the potential punch-in-the-gut lesson that the movie could have concluded with were glossed over, and it doesn’t satisfy. 17 years of education, but Bob parts us no words of wisdom. His struggles, by the end of the movie, are rendered forgotten and irrelevant.

Apo Hiking Society once resonated the immortal and perpetual question “Alam mo ba ang ibig sabihin ng ating pagsisikap sa ‘skwela?” Sadly, ABNKKBSNPLAKO isn’t the movie you’d watch to clue in on the answer.

-A

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