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Sentimentality Trumps Story in ‘Old Skool’

The film is so broad that there are moments in this movie that Fely appears to be a simpleton.

Old Skool is a movie that has a sentimental heart. In depicting the struggles of a senior citizen as she goes back to grade school, it’s clear that the movie prioritizes sweetness above all else. And while this is not a bad thing in itself, the movie paints out this sweetness with terribly broad strokes that overwhelm everything else. Emotions go unexplored as the movie gets louder and louder, leaving little room for nuance and subtlety.

Fely (Tessie Tomas) has just lost her husband. The loss leaves her alone in the house for most of the day, not really knowing what to do with herself. She decides to pursue a long-forgotten dream: to graduate from the sixth grade. And so, at sixty-nine years old, Fely goes back to elementary school. There, against the wishes of her only daughter (Angel Aquino), she struggles to keep up with the pace of school life, and suffers the attentions of the school's resident bully Buboy (Buboy Villar). And as the stress builds up, her health becomes a hindrance to achieving her dreams.

It's all very sweet, but the movie isn't very good at telling a story. It starts out well enough, with scenes depicting the emptiness of Fely's home, and the loneliness that she's feeling. But as soon as steps into school, the movie takes a pretty broad turn. The film is so broad that there are moments in this movie that Fely appears to be a simpleton. She is seen earlier collecting debts, but she apparently can't handle fractions in class. She doesn't recognize a bully's shakedown when it happens to her. She writes down reminders in her notebook like "more energy."

Being a senior citizen in elementary school is probably really tough, but the problems as the film presents them feels like the stuff of an episode of Maalaala Mo Kaya. It is an overdramatization that makes it difficult to connect with the struggles of the character. There's certainty plenty of dramatic material inherent to this premise, but the film barely skims over them. Her daughter's disapproval, for example, is given just a couple of scenes to play out. With no room to maneuver, these scenes get loud to make up for the lack of buildup.
 

The production is spotty at best, but it gets the job done. It doesn't have a very cinematic look, but there are a couple of shots in here that feel reasonably well put together. Tessie Tomas will never be anything less than watchable, but there's little of the steeliness that makes the actress so interesting. She plays Fely as if she was always a little bit confused. Angel Aquino is wasted on a role that has zero depth to it. Faring better is Buboy Villar, who embraces the broadness of the material and matches it with enthusiasm.

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Old Skool certainly seems to mean well. It's a sweet little film that in theory champions the pursuit of dreams, no matter how old or tired one gets. But the good intentions don't provide an exemption for the demands of narrative construction and dramatization. The film relies solely on broad narrative signifiers to get the story across. It misses out on really exploring the possibilities of this premise. It just tries to get by on sweetness, but there's so much more to gain.

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Old Skool
Drama
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