“There are 100 Lego pieces for every person on the planet,” boasts a narrator at the start of A Lego Brickumentary. It’s a statement the film, directed by Kief Davidson and Daniel Junge, foregrounds intending to celebrate brand-name pride rather than amass even the slightest interrogation of what could possibly have led to the astounding ubiquity of Lego products. Here’s a documentary so insidious, so comprehensively scrubbed clean, that it argues for the therapeutic powers of consumerism, where tiny little bricks can do just about anything, short of curing cancer—but not short of curing autism! In a lengthy segment, the film explains how Lego products can help children become more sociable and communicative by developing teamwork skills. It’s an absurd postulation, because it implies an exclusivity to the Lego brand, as if hundreds of other similar, constructive strategies would fall short simply because they lack the rigor and simplicity of Lego products.
To call A Lego Brickumentary propaganda wouldn’t be inaccurate; in fact, it wouldn’t go far enough, since the filmmakers employ Jason Bateman’s calm voice as the narrator, spouting half-witted puns and rhetorical questions regarding the company’s origins as a means to ease those not yet radical about their toy collecting into an exciting lifestyle of obsessive assemblage. Hey kids, the film says, even celebrities enjoy Lego, including musician Ed Sheeran, basketball player Dwight Howard, and animator Trey Parker, all of whom the community of devotees would identify as Adult Fans of Lego (AFOLs). Other slang exists at conventions: If a “hot girl” is seen, one self-described “nerd” explains, members will describe her as a “1x5,” which is a size of brick that Lego doesn’t produce (only 1x4s and 1x6s, fellas). The filmmakers treat these revelations as cute divulgences from inside the barracks, and as A Lego Brickumentary wears on, it’s progressively clear that the product predominately anchors a “boy’s club” mentality. After all, once the camera finds its way to Lego headquarters, nearly every designer is male. Dream-come-true stories abound among these folks, who brag about getting to be a kid when at work and consistently revisit their childhood while developing the next bestselling set.
What’s most troubling about A Lego Brickumentary is just how expertly its own pieces have been assembled; the filmmakers aren’t only convincing in hopping from one location to the next, but proficient in creatively stitching together the product’s nearly 70-year timeline. The company’s Denmark origins are treated as a sojourn into a distant land (the narration initially confuses Denmark for Sweden, just to be cute), and after bits and pieces of the timeline lead into the present, the film’s on the set of The Lego Movie with Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who are given a throwaway minute to express their allegiances to the brand. Soon, a jump to BrickCon in Seattle glimpses numerous super fans, salivating over the soon-to-be unveiled products. When one attendee is asked why he loves Lego so much, he offers: “It’s just fun.” While reductive self-assessment from a spontaneous interview is expected, it’s disheartening to see the film take a similar tack, where the brand is proffered as a guilt-free arbiter of pleasure, uniting previously isolated individuals.
The film makes efforts to legitimate itself by rounding out its enthusiasts with a math professor whose recent work involves studying Lego’s seemingly infinite production of bricks. Furthermore, the brand’s foray into crowd sourcing products is brushed upon, where the winning designer receives 1% of the sales generated following product manufacture. All of these facts and tidbits are meant to be impressive, but they’re also constructed to canonize Lego as a brand that cares about its customers. In a tasteless bit of self-service, the film explains how Lego almost went under at one point because they “lost sight of the simplicity” and forgot to trust their clientele. A Lego Brickumentary lets Sheeran give the sum up message that “It’s good not to take life too seriously.” This advice comes from a man who recently admitted to shitting himself on stage during a concert because he “mistimed a fart,” but there’s nothing out of step about the film, which cements itself as an exacting paean to capitalism.