Tonight I saw my first Filipino film in about a decade. Growing up, I had mostly stayed away from local cinema due to its technical shortcomings – they looked like they were shot through a tin can on emulsion that’s been used as the producer’s dental floss. Now, in an era where high-definition digital cameras have enabled storytellers to create clean imagery, I can finally watch a whole movie without having to squint at the talking smudges.
The film of choice was ABNKKBSNPLAKo – a novel-turned-movie that follows a boy named Roberto from grade school to high school to adulthood to his high school reunion. Aside from a nameless “special someone” whom the protagonist is obsessed with, the plot is more or less absent. Its entertainment instead hinges on pop culture references and inside jokes that should tickle those who’ve grown up between the late eighties to the early millennium. Instead of developing our protagonist and his surrounding characters, we instead sit through quick cut montages about the paper-and-pencil games children played to pass time in class. They are amusing references, but they pretty much end after they mentioned. Hey guys, remember when we did FLAMES? How about art projects with popsicle sticks? Oh, I’ve signed a slam book too! (Reflective sigh.)
While nostalgia is fine for late night conversations among similar-aged companions, it’s more suited as a film’s backdrop than as its only hook. When retro pop culture is used only for its own sake instead of as a detail in a story with substance, not only do the jokes play exclusively to one key demographic, but also it comes off like a BuzzFeed article. The big difference is that I can scroll through BuzzFeed in two minutes, while this movie’s throwback-fest goes on for ninety.