Review: Scottish documentary ‘My Old School’ unravels bizarre 1993 events
The curious case of Brandon Lee, an enigmatic 16-year-old who in 1993 arrived at Bearsden Academy near Glasgow, is told twice in the generally amusing, if perhaps too insensitively lighthearted, Scottish documentary “My Old School.”
First, director Jono McLeod recounts the early impressions of Lee’s classmates via interviews conducted inside a set that mimics a classroom, as well as 2D animation sequences that resemble the style of MTV’s high school-set 1990s series “Daria.” Each of them, now adults, recalls his intelligence and puzzling maturity for someone that age.
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Although Lee agreed to an interview, he didn’t consent to appearing on camera. We hear his voice lip-synched by actor Alan Cumming, whose extraordinary execution in costume makes the protagonist’s input blend seamlessly with the other talking-head conversations.
McLeod’s unparalleled access to this community is due to the fact that he himself was one of the teens who went to school with Lee. Once the boy’s shocking true identity surfaces, the story is revisited with the new information forcing every person who interacted with him to reassess their opinion of the event’s ordeal.
Archival footage from news broadcasts and talk shows and video of a school play take over to reveal the physical characteristics and personality of the actual person once known as Brandon Lee (presumably invoking the name of Bruce Lee’s tragically deceased son who died in 1993).
From the candid testimonies and Lee’s own statements, a contradictory portrait of this figure emerges, one that touches on his obsessive dream of becoming a doctor by any means necessary, the untimely passing of his parents, and the friendship and tutoring he granted to those lowest in the hierarchy of adolescent social life.
But in exploiting this anecdote about an impostor hiding in plain sight for its entertainment potential, “My Old School” feels dismissive toward Lee’s real motivations and gets caught up in the simplistic moral judgment on his questionable actions.
Still, the varied narrative devices and surreptitious construction to preserve the secret for as long as possible deliver an engaging film that will be best enjoyed if one restrains from searching the plot twist online before watching.
Ultimately, McLeod misses an opportunity to scrutinize the adage that presumes it’s never too late to pursue one’s dreams, the value that we place on the seemingly limitless promise of youth, and how institutions and society think about the expiration date of a person’s prime.
‘My Old School’
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: Starts July 29, Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica; Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood
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