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By Heinrich Domingo

We tend not to like things that remind us of our embarrassing pasts. Either we cringe remembering them or we simply outgrow them. 1st Sem takes no shame in telling an unpretentious story from a too simple conflict. It looks back into one of the awkward phases in growing up – the entry to college life. Despite struggling to achieve a clean storyline, it is an effective comedy that turns nostalgia into family melodrama.

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A family struggles to cope with the loss of their father. Maru (played by Darwin Yu), the first son, chickened out on his first night at the university and decided to immediately go back to their province. He disappointed everyone in the community for wasting an opportunity that only few can have. Meanwhile, his sibling, Jairus (Miguel Bagtas) began having trouble in his schooling. At an early age, he adopted a vice prompting his teachers to take actions. Their mother (Lotlot De Leon) tried to reach out to the two boys but it seemed that she no longer knows her sons.

This film speaks of the seemingly futile domestic issues common to each Filipino family. Its story revolved around common yet seldom discussed topics of sibling rivalry, separation anxiety, and unresolved father issues. With these sub-themes at hand, the movie has the tendency to repulse the elitist viewers who only find satisfaction in profound topics.

Looking deeper into 1st sem’s narrative, its discussions actually represent the large problems of our society. Our culture does not train good parents. Instead of directly dealing with problems, parents often times pass on the responsibility to social institutions like the school and the church. But for institutions who do not allow sex education, it would be difficult to teach real-life lessons to hormone-packed young adults. Our nation has a long way to go before making sure that our youth learn lessons outside the home.

Although inconsistent, the screenplay was helpful in delivering entertainment to a melodramatic plot. It appeals to its targeted crowd, mostly adolescents whose memory of college education is still recent.

The film also benefits from good casting. Joining together veteran actress Lotlot De Leon and two newbie actors creates a more relaxed vibe for the film. She was able to compensate for the insufficient performances of her companions.

1st Sem lacks depth for a movie with the main purpose of discussing family drama. Yet, it was undeniably successful in pleasing its market audience. For a typical cinema-goer who does not coincide with this demographic, they might need to dig deeper to appreciate the film’s content.

2.5 stars

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