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#HotDocs22 Review: My Old School

May 4, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

The documentary My Old School wonderfully recounts the story of Brandon Lee, an odd high school student in 1993 who enrolled himself at Bearsden Academy in the posh Glasgow suburb. You see, Brandon’s mother was an opera singer who was tragically killed in a car accident, and he moved to Bearsden to live with his grandma after being privately tutored in Canada.

Despite his initial awkwardness and slightly strange appearance, he quickly won over his classmates with his taste in music and driver’s licence. He impressed the teachers with his seemingly prodigious knowledge and perfect test scores, and even took on the starring role in the school’s production of South Pacific, performing the showcase tune “Younger Than Springtime” with gusto. But there were elements of Brandon’s story that just didn’t add up, and the film suggests early on that there is a secret waiting to be revealed.

Filmmaker Jono McLeod reveals Brandon’s story in this unique documentary, combining interviews with former classmates and animated re-enactments done in a crude ‘90s cartoon style. The opening title cards tell us that Brandon agreed to be interviewed for the film, but didn’t want to be seen on camera. This paves the way for Alan Cumming, who was actually supposed to play the role of Brandon in a movie in the 1990s before the project fell through, to portray him onscreen, with the actor seamlessly lip-syncing to audio of the real interview.

Despite being a true story, this is one of those documentaries that is worth going into without reading too much of the plot beforehand, as McLeod allows his film to unfold with several twists that make us feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us. McLeod tells the tabloid-worthy story, which ignited a media circus at the time, in a way that allows for maximum entertainment value, including a soundtrack of songs from the era that help set the mood. But he also has a surprising amount of sympathy for his subject, with My Old School becoming something quite sad and moving in its last act.

Screenings:

Sunday, May 1st – 5:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Wednesday, May 4th – 10:00 AM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Saturday, May 7th – 5:30 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

The film is also available to stream across Canada for five days starting on May 2nd at 9:00 AM.

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