Dear Fellow Critics,
Sometimes it’s as much about when you see the movie as it about the movie itself. Roger Ebert famously reviewed Unforgiven twice: months after his initial two-star review, he revised it to a full-blown four out of four. He reasoned that when he first saw the film (which he would eventually decide was a masterpiece), he was too distracted by events in his own life; he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to address it beyond a superficial level. Cinema is patient, though. When you are ready, it will be waiting.
I’m fascinated by the changing relationship we can have with works of art. The way we’re pushed forward by life’s currents, and how that changes the way we relate to a thing that will forever remain unchanged. The films that have gained stature and meaning for me as I’ve gotten older – and, conversely, those that once seemed monumental and now look small and silly – are too numerous to list (I will provide two examples, though: 2001: A Space Odyssey and Transformers: The Movie. I’ll let you guess which is which).
What I’m trying to say is, I reserve the right to look back at the version of me that wrote this and say: “What an idiot!”
But when I wandered into the theatre on that cold February morning with my 9 year-old son at my side, it was the ideal time for me to watch The Lego Movie.
To be honest, I’d taken the review assignment as much for him as anything else. I figured there’d be a few laughs. After all, watching the careers of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller as they moved from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to 21 Jump Street to The Lego Movie is a fascinating exercise in and of itself. But, really, I knew that bringing a dyed-in-the-wool Lego fanatic would be reward enough—even if I ended up disliking the movie.
Needless to say, that’s not what happened.
No, it wasn’t one of those I-viewed-a-movie-through-the-eyes-of-a-child-and-saw-the-truth moments. I genuinely loved this film. From its attention to detail, to its (faux) stop-motion style, to the way today’s often incomprehensible action cinematography becomes charming and fun when it’s literally reduced in scope. From a simple craft perspective, there’s a lot to love in The Lego Movie. The film geek in me couldn’t get enough. The myriad pop culture cameos and crossovers might be one giant attempt at corporate synergy, but when synergy, well, synergizes like this, it’s hard to resist.
But to really explain why The Lego Movie made such an impression and stuck with me all the way to the end of the year, I need to discuss the ending. If you haven’t seen it yet, go ahead and do that first. I’ll be here when you get back.
It’s in the last act that the film evolved from extremely well-crafted mid-winter animated adventure into something sublime.
Back to February. For those of you unfamiliar with the particular joys of dealing with a too-large Lego collection under the control of a child’s active imagination, the content of most conversations involves the variations of the words “mess,” “disorder,” and “disaster.” In fact, I’d used those exact words about two days prior, capped off with the classic: “Why can’t you just keep these things together?”
As The Lego Movie made its deft shift from animation to live action, revealing the deus behind its machina (and providing a beautiful reason for all the flights of fancy and random encounters), I couldn’t help but see a bit of myself in Will Ferrell’s father character. I’m sure that’s not a unique reaction. I bet a lot of parents saw themselves in that scene. No, it wasn't the concept itself that stayed with me. It was the moment Farrell addressed his son by name: Finn. Which happens to be my son’s name.
That’s when I sort of lost it.
And as I sank lower in my seat, I could only see it through the lens of our own relationship, and began to understand how something as seemingly inconsequential as a building toy could be the first of many wedges that weaken our bond. I walked out of the theatre wanting nothing more than to hug my boy and make sure he understood I would never be his own President Business.
Now, you’re probably thinking: “What, a movie happened to coincidently match your specific life circumstances, and that’s why it’s your favorite of the year?”
In short, yes.
But that’s the beauty of the movies. They speak to whatever version of us sees them. And sometimes that relationship is so in sync that we just have to give in. Am I saying The Lego Movie is perfect? No. But then again it’s a bit of a running joke at DCAC that I refuse to bestow a perfect rating on anything, no matter how much I love it.
Maybe I want to leave a bit or room for that yet-to-exist movie that will be one step (or one half-star) better. Or maybe I’m saving that perfect rating for a future version of myself who is confident enough to bestow that label of perfection, even if his feelings change afterward. Who knows.
What I do know is that when we got home from seeing The Lego Movie, I walked into the basement and surveyed the field of demolished sets and half-completed monstrosities that had come from the mind of a person who still believes in the unlimited potential of the world, and I thought: This...this is perfect.