Director: Jono McLeod
Writer: Jono McLeod
Stars: Alan Cumming, Dawn Steele, Lulu
“My Old School” is an offbeat documentary about a Scotsman, who lived through many people’s wildest dream/worst nightmare. He unabashedly returned to high school for a second stage.
First-time director Jono McLeod’s documentary My Old School offers a delightfully compelling look back at the story of Brandon Lee, a young man McLeod himself went to school with, at Bearsden Academy, a highly sought-after high school in a posh suburb. from Glasgow, Scotland, in 1993. Lee turned out, to put it mildly, not exactly who he claimed to be. So there is poetic justice in having him “performed” on screen by Scottish actor, writer and singer Alan Cumming, who flawlessly lip-synches audio recordings of the real Lee.
Cumming does not provide the typical documentary recreations. These are handled through retro-style animated “Daria” sequences, performed by professional voice actors (including Clare Grogan and Lulu) and accompanied by a period-appropriate playlist. Meanwhile, Cumming replaces the real “Brandon Lee”, who has agreed to be interviewed by McLeod, but not to appear on camera.
It’s an extravagant, rarely used technique, notably displayed in Clio Bernard’s equally insane document The Arbor. Here it makes sense in a story about acting and deception. The simply designed animation, inspired by the look of cool cartoons of the time, like Daria, adds extra comedic joy. You could say, to use a popular ’90s slang term, this puts “mental” back to experimental, but in a good way.
Audiences are advised to be patient, absorbing the testimonials of the dozen or so classmates on camera, dishing out their memories of that wild year when Brandon set them all up. As they relive their high school days, no doubt you will too. That’s the brightest aspect of McLeod’s project: he has built a kind of virtual time machine, one that invites everyone to go back to their old school in their minds. But only Brandon was bold/masochistic enough to actually do it.
In its ideal form, My Old School would have been a bit shorter, and the animation style finally reaches the limits of its own charm. But what one is left with is a monumental and daring farce, a swindle of the first order that, in the end, did not do much good to anyone except the filmmaker and, now, the public.