My Old School Review – Perth Lotterywest Film Festival

With My Old School, filmmaker Jono McLeod retells the story of his classmate ‘Brandon Lee’ (not real name) at Bearsden Academy in Glasgow in the early 90s, and the curious and ‘legendary’ (their word, not mine) story that comes with Brandon’s time at the school. Brandon arrived as a fifth-year student, migrating from Canada, looking suspiciously older than everyone else, and also with a curious aptitude for the lessons. Fellow classmates chime in, providing their own take on the events of Brandon’s story, while Alan Cumming appears on screen, lip-synching the real ‘Brandon Lee’, who (wisely) opted to not physically appear in the documentary, instead providing an audio interview. After watching My Old School, I couldn’t help but wonder if the person behind ‘Brandon Lee’ had wished they opted out of being in the film completely.

To say that my patience was tested during Jono McLeod’s innocuous and slight documentary is an understatement. Schoolroom based interviews are spliced between animated sequences that feel like the bastard love child of Daria and Scooby Doo, all the while peppy era-appropriate music thrusts itself at you, working against the narrative being told on screen. At 104 minutes long, My Old School is a fluffy and frictionless film that lacks any real heft to make it a substantially entertaining and engaging endeavour. Given this is a review of a film that engages in a mystery, it’s hard to dig into the actual mystery itself, but what I can say is that this feels like the kind of story that fits perfectly into a 60-second slot on a news bulletin where you go, ‘oh, that’s interesting’, and then you move on with your life and never think of it again.

Throughout My Old School, we’re shown the media frenzy that erupted in the early 90s over the ‘explosive’ (their word, not mine) reveal of who Brandon Lee was. At one point, there’s a mention of Alan Cumming playing Brandon in a film-version of the story, a point which you can’t help but feel Jono lean out from behind the camera and give the audience an over-emphasized wink. We get it. We do. This is on top of the multiple nudges and references to the other Brandon Lee, each of which is increasingly groan-worthy.

What rubbed me the wrong way about My Old School is that it’s a film that is so enamoured with its central ‘mystery’ that instead of showing any level of empathy for the person who created the identity of Brandon Lee, or even an interest into why he conned people to do what he did, it leans into a kind of school yard gossip chatter. While most of the discussions about Brandon are positive, with some of his classmates detailing how Brandon improved their lives, they’re also presented in a manner that dot points every step that he did something wrong or conned someone, almost to the level that there’s an air of nit-picking to them. At times, it feels like Brandon’s classmates are Scooby and the Mystery Inc. crew bandying together to solve a rudimentary mystery, whipping off Brandon’s mask to reveal he was the janitor all along*. This is not to suggest that Brandon engaged in victimless actions (a recording of the high school musical shows as much), but more that the ‘pile on’ effect that My Old School delights in detailing quickly becomes tiresome, detracting from any real intrigue that the narrative might have organically created.

Maybe my bitterness comes from having seen enough documentaries that tread similar ground with similar stories and do so in a more compelling manner. (To name them here would let informed readers know exactly what the twist is straight away.) I managed to pick apart the mystery far earlier than Jono wanted his audience to, and as such I found myself waiting for the film to catch up, and when it did, I couldn’t help but feel that my time was further wasted as it did little with the narrative reveal.  

With that negativity having been spilled, I will say that for the right audience My Old School is the kind of story that will thrive in post-viewing discussions, where you can digest what you’ve seen with friends and discuss about how you would have behaved in that situation. As it is, I failed to engage with My Old School on the level that they wanted it to, meaning I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this over-self-confident film.

*Not the actual solution to ‘Brandon’s mystery’.

Director: Jono McLeod

Featuring: Alan Cumming

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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