Film Reviews

A Lego Brickumentary Has Great Pieces, but What Have They Built?

How much time would you like to spend in the company of benignly kooky hobbyists? That's the question to ask before committing to docu-commercial A Lego Brickumentary, a largely genial but frequently wearying feature-length toy ad.

The film's central conceit is sound enough: Lego construction kits "unlock [users'] imagination," in the words of one Lego creator. A Lego Brickumentary accordingly presents an expansive portrait of Lego fans, including sociologists and architects, as a means of showcasing what the toy can be built into, like a life-size Star Wars X-Wing spaceship and miniature kits modeled after Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater residence. But experts such as musician Ed Sheeran and gallery artist Nathan Sawaya mostly offer accidental insight into Legos' mass appeal. They seem like singularly meaningless pieces of the film's uncritically unified whole — each another brick in the wall.

Interviews with "AFOLs," or "adult fans of Lego," make for alternately frustrating and intriguing scenes. At Lego conventions, adult and kid fans scrounge for rare pieces while amateur designers try to score business meetings with official Lego representatives like Jamie Berard. Codirectors Kief Davidson and Daniel Junge highlight some fascinating aspects of Lego fandom, especially whenever they present Lego consumers as a unique subculture. Brief sequences focused on the construction of intricate roller-coaster sets and towering skyscrapers are genuinely compelling, as is an introduction to Cuusoo, an LUG (Lego user group) website that allows Lego fans to vote on which amateur-designed sets, with themes like Minecraft and Jurassic World, should be brought to the attention of Lego executives.

But Davidson and Junge are too impatient to linger on any one section of their mosaic portrait. Viewers are left to wonder why Sheeran splurged on a giant Star Wars-themed Death Star Lego kit instead of buying a house or a car with the money he earned from his first gold record. And why does Stephen Pakbaz, an amateur designer whose Curiosity Rover kit was turned into a widely available Lego set thanks to fan support on Cuusoo, express his fascination with space travel through Lego, and not, say, a career with NASA?

The quality and character of social interaction among the AFOL community is left largely unexamined. Based on the film's too-brief treatment, it's impossible to know just how heated building competitions get. Likewise, it's hard to tell how serious steampunk-obsessed fan Dave Sterling is when he jokes about the scarcity of "one-by-fives," which he identifies as "guy code for hot girls" at Lego conventions. He laughs nervously about having found his one-by-five while wife Stacy smiles affectionately beside him.

Soon after that, young Legomaniac Thorin Finch inadvertently underscores the regressive grossness of Sterling's one-by-five joke by describing A.F.O.L.s as a bunch of "tall kids." If praising your spouse's beauty by putting down other female Lego fans is supposed to be a reflection of childlike wonder, Finch might be better off finding an NLSO — or non-Lego significant other — for a partner.

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Simon Abrams is a regular film contributor at Voice Media Group and its film partner, the Village Voice. VMG publications include LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.