When I say that The LEGO Movie is potentially more subversive than anything Jean-Luc Godard put out after the mid-’60s, it’s because for there to be a subversion, you first have to ambush a group of people that weren’t planning on having their worldview altered.
In that spirit, I don’t expect too many of the overgrown children hoping to scratch their nostalgia itch by seeing something called The LEGO Movie are expecting to have their attitudes toward consumerism and their priorities about simple-minded mass entertainments challenged.
But they will be.
As the film opens, quintessential square peg Emmet Brickowski, a cookie-cutter construction worker LEGO figure who lives live by the manual he was clearly provided that reminds him daily that the key to fitting in is “Be Liked. Be Happy,” gets ready for another successful day at life. He watches the TV shows everyone else watches (a very Idiocracy-esque program called “Where Are My Pants?”), he sings along to the #1 hit everyone else sings along with (Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island’s sly EDM parody “Everything is Awesome”), he pays the same $37 everyone else shells out for their designer plastic coffee.
Just when you think it seems like The LEGO Movie is going to shred one set of clichés — the Disney shiny-happy-people set, if you will — it turns on a dime and starts making just as much fun of the shaggy underdog clichés. At the end of a long, thrillingly normal work day, Emmet spies someone rooting around at his construction site. Dressed in what looks like a black velour tracksuit and sporting fetching neon streaks in her black hair, Wyldstyle turns out to be a member of the LEGO resistance movement, searching for an artifact that she things will fulfill the prophecy of Vitruvius and reveal her true identity as The Special, who will prevent the nefarious Lord Business from unleashing Taco Tuesday on all the various LEGO-lands of the world.
In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, the plotline of The LEGO Movie is deliberately ridiculous. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who previously turned the 21 Jump Street brand into a violently slapstick piece of mass market anarchy) are here launching a two-pronged assault, attacking both the insidiousness of franchise-oriented filmmaking meant to indoctrinate children, but also the hypocrisy of adults who would decry it even as they engage in an endless stream of “children of the ’80s” personality quizzes on BuzzFeed. Without spoiling too much, one of the central morals Emmet ends up learning is that just because he’s an individual, that doesn’t make him inherently unique, especially not in a world so successfully set up to suck everyone into a specialized matrix of highly limited lifestyle options.
In other words, as much as I’m starting to wonder just how much more mileage Phil Lord and Christopher Miller can get from their junky brand of deadpan postmodernism, I admit that I was comparatively flabbergasted by just how much salt this vehicle Trojan Horse’d in, frequently seeming to bite the many corporate hands that feed it all the while — which I’m sure the powers that be are 100 percent fine with, since this brand of credibility is the new entrapment. (Someone on Twitter claimed that at a Q&A, Lord joked that he and Miller have made a career out of turning horrible, blatant money-grubbing movie ideas into better-than-expected films. Which is so very true.)
Picture post-Vertov Godard getting split in half by Tex Avery and Wes Anderson while Wreck-It Ralph is projected onto their tussle and you have some approximation on LEGO‘s brand of “rebellion,” such as it were. If that weren’t enough, the fourth wall-shattering coda of Lord-Miller’s kids’ movie for grownups overtly says, if you’re going to be a grown-up kid, then at least be grown-up enough to be a kid about it.
Of course, not everyone agrees:
I guess I can’t argue that that ending would’ve been arguably more subversive. Or would it have been? Truth be told, the audience that is going to submit the hardest to the film are exactly the same people who will see themselves as properly cynical enough to see through any and all condescension. I thought I was one of them. And yet there I was, exiting the theater singing “Everything is awesome!” right along with everyone else.
Speaking of Twitter, though you can feel free to see my thoughts in the video at the top of this post, I can think of nothing to say about The Monuments Men that’s not better conveyed by this tweet:
So much for art.