Headline-making deception lies at the heart of Jono McLeod’s close-to-home mixed-media documentary. Told via interviews with former students, Daria-style animation and a performance from Alan Cumming, who lip-syncs a pre-recorded interview with central figure Brandon Lee, McLeod intricately presents the fabric of school life in the early ’90s.
My Old School initially plays out like a televised Grange Hill reunion, building up the personalities of Bearsden Academy’s alumni and how the arrival of Lee — who had a secret identity — knocked their small-town lives off their axes. Their detailed accounts of adolescence and their early perceptions of Lee form a textured and accessible canvas for the big twist, creating the sense that this story truly could happen to anyone with a relatively normal high-school experience who hadn’t seen much of the world. As Lee, Cummings in turn leans into a subdued performance — albeit with the occasional, inescapable twinkle — creating a nuanced portrait of an elusive tourist rather than a villainous one.
Where the documentary falters is in its overuse of simple animation to show events via flashback. Initially, it services the film well, injecting colour, nostalgia and a needed jolt of energy into an otherwise static series of talking heads. As its presence rolls on, however, the light, comic tone that it creates distracts from the story’s unique power, as does the nostalgic treatment of the era. As a storyteller, McLeod chooses to focus on the impact that Lee had on the people he met rather than examine the broader implications of his betrayal and how he managed to game the local schooling system. Regardless, this is a deeply personal and thorough study of a big event that rocked a small community irrevocably.