Review by Paul Burch
November 10th, 2017
The films of Christopher Guest are mockumentaries and yet they all circle around the same central scenario: taking place during or revolving around competitions. Whether it's the dog show in Best in Show or the Oscar race in For Your Consideration, Guest has a love for behavioral comedy - his ensemble casts are given every single facet of the spotlight in order to show off their neuroticism and their lack of awareness in how ridiculous that neuroticism has made them. Due to this, Guest’s films are funny but also painfully human. Justin McAleece’s BRICK MADNESS seems to base its entire crux on the films of Christopher Guest. The competition here? Brick-building or - for those who don’t know - building structures out of Legos and competing for the top prize in a “Brickathon”.
The central crux of the film is concerning a documentary crew who attends this Brickathon without (and this is the film’s own stipulation) any goal or interest in mind. What the result of this is, unfortunately, nothing of interest coming to the screen. There is, however, a character by the name of Max Grand (Alan Agazarian), who is a prestige figure in this niche club and called “the grandmaster of bricks”. He’s spoken about in the first ten minutes of the film and by the time this introduction is over, we are actively aware that we will be following his retribution for his crime of “gluing” his Lego pieces together. Those who are aware of this cliche will have that subplot figured out in a heartbeat. What they won’t expect is finding out it's the only guideline in Brick Madness’ entire structure that has any kind of consistency.
McAleece’s film has ambition - as one can tell with many of the decisions in production. The film is technically tight - with cinematography that feels rightfully in-the-moment, a crisp sound mix and editing that reminds us of the loose nature of the mockumentary. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of awareness involved in its own tropes. Whether influenced by the films of Guest, or just influenced by the nature of TV’s The Office or Modern Family, there is one facet of Brick Madness that is crucial to its success yet seems a bit oblivious: it forgets to be a mockumentary.
One of the running gags, for example, is of a “brick nerd” following our protagonist around but he keeps losing the interviewee's attention; the crew member wandering off toward another brick piece. That might seem funny but as it plays out, we realize that the only reason the “joke” exists is because the cinematographer is lingering on this supporting character and irrationally not following the guy who he’s collaborating with. That kind of illogic behavior plagues Brick Madness’ humor revealing it to be forced in trying to achieve the mockumentary aesthetic in a visual sense rather than one that fits the logicality of the way people actually react. This is also illustrated in the way McAleece allows the cyclical techno-based score to punctuate the action in certain points (during competition mostly), which takes us out of the film’s authenticity and reminds us we’re watching a piece of fiction. This wouldn’t be an issue if Brick Madness’ entire foundation wasn’t built on being plotless. Remember it admits to such a thing in its first ten minutes and that’s the shot it takes in its own foot - and unfortunately, for all the effort involved, never stands back up.