Unconventional documentaries are personally my favorite type, as docu-filmmaking takes a significant draw to even appeal to my tastes. Thusly, My Old School made its way onto my watchlist in the aftermath of a stellar Sundance debut. In particular, this film is uniquely stylized from top to bottom. Very basic 2D animation bolsters a story nearly too bizarre to be true, and yet it is. Alan Cumming offers up a flawless lip-syncing interpretive performance of the documentary subject’s dialogue-only interview. Is there a perfectly logical explanation as to Brandon Lee not wanting to appear onscreen in a documentary chronicling his early years? Not a chance—however, Cumming is so magnificent that one almost forgets Lee’s absence.
The Glasgow, Scotland of 1993 is a very different, but familiar, kind of vibe. New student Brandon Lee—not to be confused with tragically deceased The Crow actor of the same name—has just started at Bearsden Academy, and is the talk of the school. Through interviews with both teachers and alumni, we are given a window into first impressions of this new student, in addition to his eclectic tastes in music and the ripple effects of his appearance on the student body at large. Knowledge of cocktails, medical know-how as he purses a career in medicine, and surprising expertise in other fields paints Lee as something of a prodigy. Lee seems to be the weird-looking permed outsider with an impressive IQ and an encyclopedic knowledge of medicine, but he was hiding an earth-shattering secret that will doubtless make one’s jaw drop to the floor.
What makes My Old School such a singular experience is the way the story unfolds. An animated opening establishes the style to depict events later on, especially when people recount their own version of the tale. As the scenario get stranger and stranger, I was left mouthing “WTF” on multiple occasions. Did Lee have a secret double life? Why was there a suspicious pattern of family misfortune and deaths that appeared to follow him around every corner? The answers eventually arrive in a shocking manner difficult to ignore. An eerie video from the school’s performance of South Pacific serves as an effective centerpiece.
My Old School contains vintage footage and photos from Lee’s actual time spent at Bearsden Academy; when punctuated with the vibrancy of the animated asides, this adds pizazz to the film’s already zippy pace. I think this documentary is an easy one to recommend. Namely, My Old School should appeal to those who prefer a quirkier brand of docs. Whatever the case, the story of Brandon Lee is one that simply cannot be missed.
My Old School hides a big secret when it debuts in limited release theaters on Friday, July 22nd.