de facto film reviews 2.5 stars

A stranger-than-fiction type of documentary that could easily be made into a narrative feature, My Old School is a bizarre documentary by Jono McLeod about Scotland’s most notorious high school scandal, which was about a 17-year-old boy who passed his name off as “Brandon Lee” just around the time when the iconic actor died on the set of The Crow. Without revealing anything further, I would stop reading here because the less you know about this film, the more compelling and surprising it might be. Even McLoen misdirects the audience, not only in the trailer but also in the first half of the movie or so. Therefore, I’m not going to get into much of the reveal and where it takes you. The film unfolds like an Errol Morris documentary, with its offbeat nature and surprising twists that border between quirky and morally questionable.

To date, in that era, the death of Hollywood actor Brandon Lee left the entire world crushed and mournful because he died so young, just like his father. The film chronicles that era, with a talented student who goes by the alias of “Brandon Lee” and looks older than he looks and is very smart as he enrolls for his junior year at secondary school at Glasgow’s Bearsden Academy. With archival footage, interviews of Lee’s actual classmates at Glasgow, as well as animated reenactments, and an interview of British actor Alan Cumming embodying Brandon Lee, in a theoretical interview in the mind state of Brandon Lee and his reflections of what his mind and life were like at that time.

My Old School' doc depicts stranger-than-fiction Scottish hoax

The end result is a compelling, stranger-than-fiction account of a bizarre series of events. The film begins as a conspiracy and builds into a revealing work of twists, turns, and eye-witness accounts of the strange tide of events that occurred around the time Brandon Lee attended the school. The truth about Lee—especially the implications of his actions as well as the potential traumas and classic ethical reflections—emerges. After all, you will be baffled at how long Brandon was able to scheme his way through school and get away with what he did for such a long period of time.

What’s even more alarming is how people have different reflections and responses to Brandon’s actions and the moral implications of his actions. Some show empathy and were happy with Brandon’s experiences; some admire him for what he did; while others see him as a complete sociopath who deceived and used his facade to hoodwink people and take advantage of situations. The documentary doesn’t take a stand; it just allows the students and teachers to explain their feelings while allowing the audience to process their own feelings about the events that occurred. The film never becomes self-righteous about Brandon and his actions, yet you can also see how his actions violated others through his manipulations.

Alan Cumming Grounds Poignant Scottish Documentary 'My Old School' | KQED

McLeod, who attended Bearsden at the time of the scandal, keeps the film interesting with some impressive animation that recalls the work of MTV 90s cartoons like Daria, which adds to the visual flair of the era. We certainly get news footage and photographs merged with the interviews. Cumming ends up lip-syncing words that were actually spoken in the audio interview he did, but he refused to show his face.

As the documentary wraps, we have gone through many weird twists and turns (headline grabbing), but it never explores Brandon’s self-destruction or demise. Cumming captures Brandon Lee’s persona quite well, and at times you’re so engrossed in his performance that you forget he’s playing a real person who was pretending to be someone else. We never fully understand Brandon’s end goal, other than the fact that his father died, and he failed medical school. The film is about second chances, or at least attempting second chances.

There is so much psychology and room for MeLeod to work on, yet what he explores feels like he just barely touched the surface of Brandon’s misbehaviors. Some of the students don’t fully open up as much, or once they do it cuts away too soon for it to fully resonant. Perhaps because it’s very difficult and personal, and Mcloed failed objectively. However, we never truly feel the traumatic implications that probably occurred, especially with a fellow classmate of Brandon’s who did a stage play with him where, looking back, she feels violated. Overall, the film, is an undeniably compelling retelling of a quirky tale, but a more complex approach would have benefited the documentary. It could have been a more captivating and intense work if McLeod had searched for the darker answers of a man whose personal life is undeniably unstable.

My Old School is now playing in limited theaters.