Review | Going Back to His ‘Old School’

'My Old School' Is an Inventive Documentary Spin on a Strange-but-True Story

Credit: Courtesy Magnolia Pictures
Credit: Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

Any critic, or normal human moviegoer, faces a serious spoiler alert dilemma when it comes to summarizing the unique Scottish doc My Old School. Suffice to say, there are critical twists in the plot of this true tale of a certain “precocious” student in a Scottish high school, whose background has some mysterious secret byways.

An underlying question humming in the first half of the film: “Who is this Brandon Lee guy, and why do we and the many talking heads interviewed care so deeply about him?” My advice: Do not Google the actual story, which unfolded in the mid-‘90s. Instead, savor the deft skill of director Jono McLeod — himself one of the many fellow students of the mystery man subject, interviewed in a faux schoolroom setting for nostalgic effect. Admire McLeod’s clever interweaving of storytelling devices, his mixture of live-action doc footage and animated reenactments, and enjoy the easy charms of Alan Cummings, serving as avatar by playing our anti-hero protagonist, reading the actual testimony of “Brandon,” who for cryptic reasons refused to be photographed for the interview. Or are they cryptic? Questions abound, and payoffs titillate, but slowly.

Most of all, McLeod’s film is a masterclass in pacing and carefully restrained data for ultimate dramatic effect, with Rashomon-like observations of the story from multiple angles. Along the way, the film toys with our fetishization and post-game analysis of high school years and the slippery slope between self-made fiction and certifiable truth. Quirkily fun-loving, stylistically original, and relatable on multiple levels, My Old School plays like an art film without really trying. See sbiffriviera.com.

Credit: Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

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