My Old School is one of those documentaries that plays like a thriller. It recounts a shocking incident - which this review will not spoil - that was major news in Scotland in the '90s but is not well-known here. The film tells the story methodically, so that each new revelation is mind-blowing and gasp-inducing. Waiting with anticipation to see where it goes is fun.
The central figure, Brandon Lee, did not want to appear on camera. He gave an audio interview to director Jono McLeod, though, and actor Alan Cumming, sitting behind a desk in a classroom, very effectively lip syncs his words. Animation helps dramatize events recalled by Brandon's former classmates. They describe the day he first walked into Glasgow's Bearsden Academy. Something about him seemed off, starting with the fact that he shared a name with Bruce Lee's son, who had just been accidentally killed on the set of The Crow a few months prior. Brandon supposedly came from Canada, shipped to live with his grandmother after the death of his opera singer mother. Armed with great intelligence and a quick wit, he quickly made close friends and even snagged the lead in the school musical.
Part of the appeal of My Old School is that different classmates have different pieces of the puzzle. Several witnessed certain things firsthand. Others heard rumors, which are intermittently contradicted by those who were present. If anything is as crazy as the true story, it's the manner in which things became distorted as they passed through the grapevine. On occasion, Brandon's peers get to hear the truth for the first time, and their gobsmacked reactions are humorous. Then again, Brandon isn't necessarily a reliable figure. That adds an extra layer of intrigue to the whole affair. Certain factors can be proven, whereas others rely on his not-entirely-trustworthy testimony.
My Old School's “secret” is revealed roughly 2/3 of the way through. The final third deals with the fallout from it. Stuff gets really juicy when McLeod produces a videotape most of Brandon's peers have never seen. That tape proves a key remembrance many of them have to be 100% incorrect, in a rather disturbing manner. One woman, whose teenage self is on the tape with Brandon, is even caught off-guard by how definitively it disproves her own memory. Such is the allure of the movie. Wild new twists come on a regular basis.
It's okay to be entertained by the film. Nobody died, no crimes were committed, no injuries occurred. My Old School recounts an outrageous situation that even those involved find amusing. McLeod keeps the pace brisk, Cumming humanizes the unseen Brandon, and the details that unfurl are never less than riveting. If you want to be dazzled by a wild-and-crazy true-life tale, this is essential viewing.
out of four
My Old School is unrated, but contains brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.