My Old School does a decent job at trying to make heads or tails of this fascinating age-gap story.
My Old School (2022) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on February 17, 2023
Rating 3.5 /5
Brian MacKinnon had once been known as Brandon Lee, with no relation to the celebrity Brandon Lee. In 1993, Brandon attended high school in Scotland, posing as a Canadian student that had transferred across the pond. While at school, he impressed everybody, from students to teachers. He had advanced knowledge on time, a love of 1980s music, and a chipper attitude that made him the talk of the school. In 1995, however, it was discovered that Brandon was not who he said he was. He had a different name and age; he was a 30-year-old man pretending to be a 16-year-old boy. And the ruse worked for a few years.
My Old School is a documentary that attempts to make sense of this bizarre discovery in the most surreal way possible. For this film, Brian was interviewed but did not agree to appear on camera as the other interviewees for the classroom setting. In his place, actor Alan Cumming steps in to lip-sync the audio. This staging is unique as it maintains the documentary’s style while keeping the audience guessing what this guy looked like to have fooled an entire school.
Further adding to the mystique is the reenactment of Brian’s time as Brandon through animation. The 2D animation presents a believable scenario of how Brian viewed his entrance into a new school with a new identity. His classmates speak about how genuine it felt to get to know someone like Brandon, fully accepting that this guy was a passable high school student. The audience is never given the easy satisfaction of looking at the rare footage to declare, “how could everybody not notice?” While the film eventually does get to news footage and archival recordings of Brandon’s pivotal role in the school play, most of the film is spent getting to know the character of Brandon through those who connect with him.
Hearing these stories and watching these animated reenactments creates an air of understanding for the situation. It’s like watching an episode of Columbo, where you know the actual reveal but watch in anticipation of when the shoe will drop. Until then, the audience is placed in a similar level of mystique and nostalgia, showcasing how easy it was to gravitate towards someone like Brandon, who was smart and cool. The comradery is strong enough that it makes one hope this is more of an F is for Fake style documentary where it’s all revealed to be a hoax of a hoax. Of course, the game is soon up, and we learn the true story behind Brian.
Brian’s story is not particularly one of pity, shock, or comedy. It manages to be all that in its weird way of trying to piece together why this one man wanted a second shot at school. Something strange would have to be off-beat to make sense of it all. Sure, it sounds like the premise of a screwball comedy, but also concerning for the aspects of Brian acting in a school play where he was expected to kiss a teenager, something he tried to shy away from. The look of surprise and conflicted feelings on the faces of the aged students is very intriguing, especially when they repeatedly witness the recently unearthed footage.
My Old School does a decent job at trying to make heads or tails of this fascinating age-gap story. There’s perhaps a more extensive conversation about the security of schools doing checks and the perceptions of age. While that would’ve made this documentary more complete, it’s still a stirring film for trying its best to communicate this weird act of deception in age and education.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.