Is there an age limit to happiness? In Old Skool, 69-year old Lola Fely realizes that it is never too late and one is never too old to fulfill one’s dreams. The quest for happiness is a universal journey and Old Skool shows us one roadmap to get there. The debut feature film of director Cia Hermosa-Jorge and latest release from Till I’m 90 Films follows the story of 69-year old Lola Fely (played by Tessie Tomas), who found herself lost following the death of her husband. Having spent five decades playing a role to fulfill the happiness of others, as a wife and as a mother, she is now faced with the question of her own happiness. She sought the answers in fulfilling a lifelong dream—to receive her elementary diploma. With newfound determination, she goes back to school to finish Grade 6, only to discover the ruthless world of pre-teen campus life. The movie sees Lola Fely navigating lunchroom politics, bullying, making friends, and dealing with the pressures of school.
Through graceful storytelling, Old Skool tugs at the heartstrings with great subtlety. Generous on the comedy and punctuated with genuine heartfelt moments, it is a movie with a bold message—in your journey to happiness, your dream is your north star.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the premiere of Old Skool, which for me is a breath of fresh air amidst the usual big-budget Hollywood films and slew of love team-driven local movies. It’s an inspiring movie that celebrates the power of dreams and the love for learning. It’s not action packed, but it is packed with deep emotions brought to the viewers through fine directing and graceful acting. Tessie Tomas is wonderful as Lola Fely—she brought an unforgettable kindness to a character that has spent much of her life prioritizing the happiness of other people over her own. Only with the death of her husband did her own yearnings to fulfill a lifelong dream start to stir, and that is to complete her elementary education. I’m not much for technical analysis of a movie—like most viewers I pay more attention to the movie’s impact on my own thoughts and emotions—but I did notice how perfectly the musical score matched Lola Fely’s inner struggles.
As she fretted at her house, feeling lost, not knowing what else is there to do, single piano notes followed her around. When she saw some school paraphernalia, and an idea or a memory made her expression change, the piano notes combined into a melody. This scene in the movie I found breathtaking. There was tension as something indefinable was building, but instead of breaking, it transformed into a positive forward movement taking Lola Fely to her dream of completing school.
So often, old people can only look forward to dying, as if significance dies with youth. This movie defies that mindset, insisting, “there is no end date for following your dream and reinventing yourself.”
This theme resonated strongly with Cia, who felt her own foray to filmmaking paralleled Lola Fely’s journey. The mother of three first peered through the lens of a movie camera only in 2010, under the direction of the late veteran director Marilou Diaz-Abaya. “Before studying film, I held a really good corporate job for over six years. At that time, my eldest son was starting to develop into his own person and that’s when I knew I had to set a good example for him and follow my passion. I wanted him to see his mother put in 100% to pursue her dream because that’s how he’ll learn how to soar,” says Cia. “On the first day of film school, I was so nervous because I was 30 and everything was uncertain. But I was so hungry to learn. Direk Marilou taught me that being a filmmaker is a vocation. A calling. You touch people’s hearts, you inspire action, and you make people realize things through film. It is a huge responsibility. Only five years later, and of course through blood, sweat, and tears, we have Old Skool.
The movie also stars Angel Aquino and Buboy Villar of Kid Kulafu. Angel is the loving but ever-anxious daughter who bears financial responsibility for her mother and daughter. Not very supportive of her mother’s dream at first, her character nevertheless was who I resonated with most. There was a point in the movie where she almost could not catch her breath from worry and so was I so many times in my own life that seeing this on film was almost cathartic—like it was telling me I’m not alone in this feeling.
Buboy, as the tough kid whose exterior hides a sweet soul, is a gem. I liked him best when, curious yet wary about Lola Fely’s concern, he would pretend to ignore her, trying to be nonchalant about his situation, yet secretly pleased with the attention.
The other cast also performed well. There are no histrionics in this movie. The lines are delivered naturally. Old Skool is a sweet, feel-good movie invested in the story-telling. The viewer is slowly immersed in the world, not bombarded by special effects and fast-paced action. I wish there will be more local movies like this.
If you want a break from all the terrifying events and pessimistic views saturating the air, if you want a validating and hopeful experience for a change, just breathe and enjoy the feeling that everything will be alright eventually if you dare to follow your dream, I suggest you watch Old Skool.