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If A LEGO Brickumentary succeeds, it’s because of this principle of any good documentary: Passionate people are entertaining to watch. They pull viewers into obsessive worlds where one random item, hobby, or bit of lore is so much more interesting than anything else. We marvel at their commitment. We geek out with them.
Even if you’re so spatially challenged that you can’t make one Lego brick out of two Lego bricks, you’ll find this documentary moderately charming if self-aggrandizing. Let’s be real: Had The Lego Movie not come out last year to great critical acclaim, Brickumentary wouldn’t exist. No one would care about the history of the brick if Lego Batman weren’t so droll and a hundred sequels weren’t being planned. So the brick boys struck while the 1932 iron’s newly hot.
Jason Bateman is the amiable narrator of the 92-minute film, sometimes popping onscreen as a Lego “minifig” with misbehaving hair. These joke-laden Lego sequences bridge the interviews with employees at Lego’s Denmark factory, who gush about what great jobs they have. Yawn. Yeah, it’s a fun gig—how many times do we have to hear it?
The doc fares better when it goes outside the proprietary walls to follow hardcore fans. A Japanese startup (and now Lego partner) featured in the film posts the Lego creations of everyday people online; projects that get more than 10,000 votes earn the possibility of becoming Lego’s new set. One candidate is a space rover with incredibly realistic movements, including wheels that compensate for rough terrain. “[The rover] doesn’t have to be battling Martians or anything,” its mastermind says. “It’s doing it all for the science.”
Outside of the sanctioned competition, Top Gear fans will get a kick out of a brief cameo of James May (who else?), who built a functional house out of the bricks. And then there are people like Alice Finch, who’s crafted an unbelievably expansive and intricate representation of the Lord of the Rings elven realm, Rivendell. It’s a spectacular sight, proof that Finch is a deserved recipient of a Lego convention’s prestigious People’s Choice Award. Even her young son bows before her, whispering to the camera, “You know who the best Lego builder is? My mom.”
Fans of last year’s movie will perk up the few times it’s referenced, though it doesn’t happen often. It’s not a true “brick movie”—a stop-motion flick using actual Legos—we learn, because its filmmakers used CG animation. (In one of The Lego Movie’s scenes, however, a brick filmmaker’s own movie is playing on a screen. Very meta.) The doc includes a pretty hilarious montage of brick interpretations of films like Psycho, Pulp Fiction, and The Dark Knight. (This is where you go down the YouTube wormhole.)
For all the goofiness and the Lego enthusiasts’ infectious, childlike enthusiasm, Brickumentary is most uplifting—even awe-inducing—when it shows Lego bricks in real-life applications. Helping autistic children interact with others is one therapeutic use; city planning is a practical one. Officials at MIT recreated a city to study issues like traffic patterns and density. One group even replicated a section of Google Maps.
Don’t get me wrong: Constructing a life-size Star Wars X-Wing in Times Square is cool, as is the artist who uses Lego bricks to interpret famous works like the “Mona Lisa.” But when people brainstorm how to use the simplest toy to tackle society’s most complex problems, that’s a triumph of creative minds, not a ballyhooed company.
A LEGO Brickumentary opens Friday at the Angelika Pop-Up.