By/ James Verniere & Boston Herald
What kind of documentary do you have if the person your film is about is played by an actor lip-syncing that person’s words? This is only one of the intriguing questions posed by “My Old School,” a film in which all the flashbacks are at first animated and the animated characters are voiced by actors.
Directed by Jono McLeod (“The National Pet Service”), who was a classmate of the person “My Old School” is about, “My Old School” tells a whopper of a story about a student named Brandon Lee, an older-looking male from Canada, who appears at the steps of Glasgow’s “posh” Bearsden Academy in 1993, claiming to be 16 and seeking admittance. By the way, the actor Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, had been killed on the set of “The Crow,” only months earlier.
According to Brandon, whose creepy motto is, “Do the unimaginable,” his mother was a renowned opera singer with whom he traveled the world. She died in a car accident that left him facially scarred. His father, a London professor, wanted Brandon to live in Bearsden, a well-to-do Glasgow suburb, with his grandmother.
Brandon is a brilliant student, determined to attend medical school when he graduates Bearsden. His biology teacher repeatedly remarks that he teaches her. In the school production of “South Pacific,” Brandon is cast in the male lead and sings “Younger Than Springtime” well enough to make some in the audience swoon.
Brandon, who is played in filmed interviews by the lip-syncing actor and Scotsman Alan Cumming, was admitted to Bearsden by the strict Mrs. Holmes (voiced by the pop singer Lulu in animated scenes). She helped run the school with the school’s eccentric rector. One of the teachers is voiced by “Gregory’s Girl” herself Clare Grogan. We hear from the “real” physics teacher Mr. Gunn as the well as the animated one. Brandon’s classmate Stefen, the only person of color at Bearsden, recalls how, while many of the students were racists, Brandon befriended him, and brought him to his house with “Gran” for study sessions and meals and helped him build confidence.
Although overlong, “My Old School” is one of the most memorable imposter films I have ever seen. It is a tale of obsession, deception, the meaning of identity and the nature of friendship. Brandon has much better taste in music than most of his friends at school and introduces them to such bands as Joy Division.
In English class, he dazzles the teacher and fellow students alike with his analysis of “Death of a Salesman.” Because Brandon has access to a car, he and his friends go to Glasgow to the cinema and concerts (and bowling).
In a case of coincidence that is hard to believe, but true, Brandon’s real name is the same as one of his classmates, leading to some serious bafflement and the need to concentrate. In the film’s second half, we learn the true story, see some archival footage of the so-called “Brandon Lee,” and see some of the classmates in their 1990s, real-life incarnations. We also see some in the present day.
Brandon’s deception is not uncovered until after he enrolls in medical school, where he falls apart and is forced to leave. As it turns out, Brandon’s mother is not a dead opera singer. His father was not a London professor. The unraveling of Brandon is as fascinating as his magnificent ruse. Stick around to hear Lulu’s terrific cover of Steely Dan’s “My Old School” over the end credits.
‘MY OLD SCHOOL’
Not rated (contains mature themes)
Running time: 1:44
How to watch: In theaters