One of the problems that family films run into—and by family films, I mean films specifically for the least productive members of the family unit—is that children don’t review movies. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how good-natured a movie is if it doesn’t throw the occasional bone to the adults in the room, who will otherwise run through every scenario in their head to prevent the film from continuing. Casually suggesting alternatives, cutting off the electricity, and simulating a nuclear catastrophe are all viable options, depending on how smart your kids are. Turn off the TV, children; we need to get to the bunker where I keep my DVD box set of Seinfeld. We’ll have to watch that for the next two hours until the radiation settles.
This is a preface to the problem that faces the seemingly autobiographical The Year I Did Nothing, written and directed by Ana Barredo. It stars a handful of children, though the emphasis is on Christina (Nora Lapena), a 15-year-old girl in the Philippines whose family is wading through the red tape of immigrating to America. With her family trying to save money for their eventual transition, she convinces her parents to eschew her tuition expenses by taking her out of school. It works and, along with her siblings, she gets into a series of low-stakes, childhood shenanigans, such as get-rich-quick schemes and firework mutilations. She’s accompanied in these adventures by her little brother, George Washington (Jared Xander Silva), who received that name because he was born the same year her family applied for America and her mother thought it would help their case.
“…a 15-year-old girl in the Philippines whose family is wading through the red tape of immigrating to America.”
Aside from the subtitles, this film is designed for children from the ground up. The comedy is of the most innocent variety. There’s a voiceover that always sounds on the verge of teaching you math, and even the dramatic moments have rounded edges. In the background, the Filipino government has a bad case of corruption, so it’s writhing and clenching its fists. The streets quickly overflow with protestors, like white blood cells moving in to quell a disease. This, too, is adulterated for children—refined all the way down to “a scary thing on the TV.” At no point does the movie slip the adults a flask of high-proof content. Anyone over ten could use that flask.
The best family films are accessible to children, but leave room for growth. They give kids all the bright colors and levity they want at the moment while forcing them to consider a new idea or face an emotion they’d usually run away from. The Year I Did Nothing kneels to eye-level and gives kids the most comforting thing imaginable: kids that remind them of themselves, having more fun than not. At that low frequency, young kids who don’t mind reading subtitles may get a kick out of this. Adults will not.
The Year I Did Nothing (2019)Written and Directed by Ana Barredo. Starring Nora Lapena, Jared Xander Silva, Faith Toledo, Rhandy Torres, Maria Noble, Bianca Buena, Lyndon Adolf Apostol, Rhianne Casey Ramos, Grace Baldiserri, Abe Pagtama.
3 out of 10 stars