Some stories are best savored, gently rolled in the mouth like hard (brain) candy, until the last bits of flavor become taste ghosts. Others are just really baller Wikipedia entries. “My Old School” is more of the latter than the former. This, despite some A+ decision making by writer/director Jono McLeod.
McLeod was faced with a seemingly insurmountable documentarian hurdle. Brandon Lee, the oddball at the center of McLeod’s film, did not want to appear on camera. This, despite granting an audio interview. The filmmaker was essentially left with nothing more than podcast material, which is now the most abundant of all natural resources. His solution: Have Alan Cumming lip synch to Lee’s recordings. This solution should now be the standard for whenever problematic actors need replaced. Digitally insert Alan Cumming lip synching to Ezra Miller’s lines in the troubled, allegedly-still-upcoming “Flash” movie, you cowards!
“My Old School” is a wildly difficult film to talk about because it quite clearly frames the reason for its very existence as a spoiler. This, despite it being the most guessable “mystery” not solved by an explorer named Dora or a Brown encyclopedia. You’ll know within 5 minutes what the “twist” is. But because trailers and film’s construction treat it as an impossible-to-fathom realization, the Laws of Movie Criticism prevent its discussion here.
So, what can be said spoiler-free? In the 1990s, Brandon Lee was enrolled at a high school in Scotland and absolutely shouldn’t have been. He did a lot of lying, mostly to teenagers. If nothing else, “My Old School” is a reminder that being 16 is a lot like being in QAnon: Whatever someone says, you have to believe it without a single follow-up question. Those teenagers are now adults, many of whom still have their kilts in a twist about Lee’s shenanigans. This, despite most of them quickly indicating they never liked the weirdo in the first place.
After the horses flee the spoiler barn, the mess that’s left for everyone who isn’t Brandon Lee isn’t all that compelling. Punctuated with some “Daria”-esque animated recreations, this is mostly the story of other people remembering something that happened to someone else almost 30 years ago. Those events were only lower-case traumatizing for most, save a couple who could legitimately capitalize it. “My Old School” is right that there’s a movie here. This, despite the fact that the movie itself isn’t that movie. As a documentary short or a fictionalized, full-length narrative feature, it could have been riveting.
In this format, it needed more Brandon Lee than Brandon Lee was willing to acquiesce. Listening to folks who haven’t spoken to this man in decades, after only kinda-sorta knowing him, speculate what motivated him is no different than telling the story of what happened to someone wholly uninvolved and asking “So, why do you think he did it?” Honestly, the why is almost less compelling than what it says about this period of life. The fleeting moments between adolescence and adulthood are unfairly indelible, brutally permanent. This, despite being lived exclusively by people unable to grasp the very concept of consequences. “My Old School” is worth talking about, worth reflecting upon, but somehow only kinda worth seeing.
Grade = C+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Kristy Puchko from Mashable says “Once the cat is out of the bag, archival footage from the school and Lee’s subsequent apology tour will reveal his ’90s face, creating a terrific payoff for the doc’s shocking climax.”
Anne Brodie of What She Said says “An astonishing wee gem about a deeply troubled, frustrated good son who becomes a media sensation.”
Tara Brady of The Irish Times says “Phrynichus may have got there first with The Capture of Miletus in 494 BC, but modern verbatim theatre was revived and codified by the Department of Agitation and Propaganda during the early years of the Soviet Union.”