Review by Sean Boelman
Larger-than-life individuals often make for some of the best documentaries, and millionaire Michael Brody Jr. is certainly very eccentric. Although Keith Maitland’s approach in the documentary Dear Mr. Brody is interesting, it doesn’t examine the implications of this story deeply enough.
The film tells the story of a young hippie millionaire who pledges to give away his inheritance for the sake of ushering in world peace. It’s a foolishly ambitious goal, even for 1970, but there’s something intriguing and alluring about watching his tragic pleas for anyone to listen to his wisdom.
There are some interesting questions here about greed, and some of them are posed in a way that is pretty fascinating. Some of the most interesting portions of the movie ask whether or not Brody was truly as altruistic as he made himself to seem, or if he had some ulterior motive beneath the surface.
The film does a very good job of creating for the viewer the odd figure that Brody was for his generation. He’s the type of person that was revered by some and reviled by others, something which took an unexpected toll on him. The movie could have definitely gone into more depth as to the emotional impact that this story had on Brody, but when it does, it’s pretty compelling.
That said, the film does make a fundamental mistake in not focusing on some of the everyday people who interacted with Brody. The title references the letters that were sent to Brody requesting financial support in an attempt to take advantage of his generosity, and yet these only make up a small portion of the runtime.
Stylistically, the movie is a bit more conventional than one would hope, especially given Maitland’s previous work. It’s a combination of archive footage and interviews, with a bit of stylistic flair that shows the promise it could have had if Maitland would have gone all-in with the unorthodox, but what we get is a bit too straightforward to be memorable.
With a runtime nearing an hour and forty minutes, one is left to wonder whether this might have made a better short. There’s definitely enough of a story here to make a feature, but Maitland’s approach is lacking the focus it would have taken for it to really come together in a satisfying way.
Dear Mr. Brody has an unusual story, and while it shows the potential it had to be something special, the subject does most of the heavy lifting. It’s the type of documentary that will have you intrigued while watching but you will forget soon after.
Dear Mr. Brody is now in theaters and on VOD.