My Old School an astounding story of subterfuge - review

Published By Alexandra Heilbron on Jul 28, 2022

My Old School is about a man who was so desperate to be a doctor that he went back to high school at age 30, but passed himself off as a teenager -- which raises so many questions. How did he convince people he was 16? What had he done between the time he failed medical school the first time and the time he re-entered the same high school he’d attended over a dozen years earlier?

Directed by Jono McLeod, who attended school with the man in question, My Old School gives the answers to these questions while offering up a mostly lighthearted look at what occurred by interviewing his fellow classmates and their teachers.

Brian McKinnon enrolled himself at Bearsden Academy in Scotland as Brandon Lee. Because his name was the same as Bruce Lee’s son, whose accidental death a month earlier was fresh in their minds, and because he looked somewhat older than a high school student, he gained their immediate interest. He seemed a bit nerdy and didn’t make friends right away, but excelled in class, sometimes appearing more knowledgeable than their teachers about the subjects they were covering.

He had an odd accent, which he attributed to having been in Canada for several years, traveling with his mother, a successful opera singer (whom he claimed had recently passed away). When the school decided to put on South Pacific as the year-end musical, he was pressured to play the lead because of his height and his “American” accent. Although he claims he wasn't trying to bring attention to himself, Brandon finally gave in and after that, became more popular at school.

Brandon, whose real name is Brian McKinnon, was interviewed for My Old School, but refused to be seen on film. McLeod cast well-known Scottish actor Alan Cumming to lipsync to Brandon’s words. Therefore we hear Brandon’s voice, but see Alan Cumming.

His former classmates are interviewed in a classroom setting, one or two at a time, and seem like a lively bunch, giving interesting and humorous anecdotes about Brandon's time at Bearsden.

Brandon told them he lived with his grandmother, and invited other students -- including those who were being bullied or ridiculed -- to his house to study. He became a sort of tutor for them. His friendship was beneficial, because with one Black student, his involvement not only helped the boy pull up his grades and set him on a new path, but it stopped the bullies from bothering him. Brandon shared music with another male student, which widened his appreciation and knowledge of musicians, leading the others to stop teasing the boy.

The film is well put together, illustrating the former students' memories through animated segments. However, if you're looking for a quick reveal, it takes awhile for us to see what Brian McKinnon looked like. Director McLeod wanted to tell the audience the entire story the way he lived it, with the truth of who Brandon was coming later in the movie.

Brandon's performance in South Pacific was recorded on video, which is shown in the latter part of the film. He also made appearances on talk shows after the truth came out. Tall and thin, he does at times seem much younger than 30.

It's a great story, and one that won't quickly be forgotten by McKinnon's classmates -- or anyone in the town of Bearsden, which is likely why McKinnon refused to be shown on camera. I won't give away whether his ruse wound up with him finally becoming a doctor -- you'll have to watch to find out what happens -- but it's a lively story, told mostly with levity by the director and his former classmates. It does delve into the more serious matters that surround McKinnon's subterfuge, but it's also clear to see why he did it.

My Old School opens Friday, July 29, 2022 in Toronto and Vancouver. ~Alexandra Heilbron
Alan Cumming as Brandon in My Old School. Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media

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