Los Angeles Times

Schooled in deceit

Scottish documentar­y ‘My Old School’ reveals a mysterious student’s identity.

- By Carlos Aguilar

The curious case of Brandon Lee, an enigmatic 16year-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 class- mates 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.

Although Lee agreed to an interview, he didn’t consent to appearing on camera. We hear his voice lipsynched 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.

 ?? Magnolia Pictures ?? AN ANIMATED scene from the movie "My Old School," based on the curious case of Brandon Lee.
Magnolia Pictures AN ANIMATED scene from the movie "My Old School," based on the curious case of Brandon Lee.

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