Review: In my bare thought, Stip & Pensil – eraser and pencil – might be A Copy of My Mind v2.0 written but not directed by Joko Anwar. Helmed by Ardy Octaviand, this film is projecting the writer’s exasperation towards suburban sh*ts in metropolitan – from blooming population, social gap, education awareness et al – in a lighter mode, making it more urban than Mr. Anwar’s political-heavy feature. It’s no surprise if this story feels timely and relevant to today’s situation through and through.
In presenting its serious theme, Stip & Pensil points out that the core of those suburban problems is: illiteracy – literally and figuratively. Illiteracy leads to low education and poverty, which force children to work instead of studying. People are unaware of these unfortunate chains, resulting in tremendous social gap. At the opposite edge, educated wealthy people are judged to have been prone to exclusiveness, promoting larger gaps. Mr. Anwar’s script proposes a thought, a different perception as a tool to mend the gap.
However, this isn’t a pretentious preachy film. In fact, it’s a fresh, witty comedy (which immediately reminds me to Quickie Express’ style of satire, despite being in different scope) about four rich high school students, Toni (Ernest Prakasa), Agi (Ardit Erwandha), Saras (Indah Permatasari), and Bubu (Tatjana Saphira), who are underestimated and ostracized on daily basis, yet, judged as being exclusive by their fellow students. One time, they’re entering a national social essay competition with an essay about education for poor society, which is immediately followed with backlashes accusing them for plagiarizing and unrealistic. Challenged by their peers’ shallow judgment, they decide to build a free school for poor children with their allowance.
From a typical high school drama, Stip & Pensil moves forward and expands its scope as the teenagers hands-on plunging into Jakarta’s slum, encountering myriads of locals with different backgrounds. This little plural slum is a pars-pro-toto depiction of the city’s urban problems – from housing, hygiene, sanitation, small-time criminal, discrimination, to child neglect issues exist. The scope might get larger, built upon carefully intertwined topics and sketches to create a holistic picture of suburban issues.
The film tackles those suburban issues with tickles and tickers – good humor and heart. Unpretentious yet exhilarating satires are delivered by lending characters’ persona – like Arie Kriting as a slum chief or Gita Bhebhita as a hostile Bataknese mother – and presenting small-time sitcom sketches. The humor is often coming as a result/bookmark to the characters’ underlying issue. For instance, there’s a scene where a coffee stall owner keeps repeating her suffering as an excuse of everything she does; or there’s a scene where illiterate children escape from authorities but get detour because of their inability to read signs. Blending in with the plot, humors in Stip & Pensil becomes like glue to put everything together and a goggle to offer a new perspective in observing social issues around us.
While good at exposing and developing conflicts, Stip & Pensil falls flat to resolve those carefully stacked issues. Resolutions to those conflicts seem hasty and untidy without a proper lead-on to such final decision. It serves an ending audiences want to see, but there’s an irrational leap to conclusion which leaves an open gap. Some conflicts are immediately pulled into the surface, while they’re not apparently discussed or nudged on screen, only to add some virtues to make the ending ‘happier.’ Not even sudden reversal of characters’ attitude towards some underlying issues justifies the underlying process to ending.
It is apparently flawed – with the loosening third act and inability of the leads to stand out (except Ernest Prakasa and Indah Permatasari) as well as missed attention to minor details (note that in the film’s opening, Saras is carrying a white mouse to scare people off, but during camping scene, everyone – including her – is freaked out by a rat). However, Stip & Pensil’s attempt to tackle serious suburban issues with tickles is still a delightful treat. It’s fun, groovy and relevant.
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