A story unlike any other, Dear Mr. Brody is an unforgettable story of one young man’s woefully misguided attempt to save the world.

Apocalyptic films often feature sequences where masses of people cry out for a savior that never comes. In Dear Mr. Brody, a documentary about a largely forgotten American, something even worse happens. 

For a very short period in 1970, Michael Brody Jr. was the most famous man alive. Recently married and barely over the age of 21, Brody shot like a rocket into the public spotlight after promising to share his 25 million dollar inheritance with anyone in need. It didn’t matter if people needed $5,000 to get out of debt or $20 to buy dinner; Mr. Brody was willing to help. All he asked in return is that people write him a letter.

Dear Mr. Brody explores this chaotic time in pop culture through two very different experiences. The first is a clean-cut review of Brody’s rise and horrendous fall, as told by the people closest to him. The second, and much more emotionally-compelling, is that of those who turned to Brody for help. Through a series of readings, some by the senders themselves, dozens of letters initially sent to Brody are shared with the audience. 

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Viewers will feel many things about Mr. Brody, but the magic of Keith Maitland’s documentary lies in the statement it makes about human perseverance and the undeniable power of hope. The letters sent to Brody cover a range of requests, each more compelling than the last, and viewers will want to see everyone receive what they need. You want to believe that those in power really can be compelled to help their fellow man, and you start to consider your problems in a new light. 

Taking cues from true crime stories, the structure of Dear Mr. Brody holds vital pieces of information back until the emotional impact of their reveal is highest. It is narrative manipulation done with the best of intentions, and it works to evoke several visceral reactions throughout the story. Rarely has a documentary found a way to make its audiences cheer for the same people they will later wish ill upon, nor have many created a sense of empathy for the plight of all humans, quite like this film.

Dear Mr. Brody is a documentary best experienced by those who know as little about the titular figure as possible. That said, those aware of Michael Brody Jr. will still find themselves engrossed in the stories of everyone who found themselves pulled toward his celebrity status. Maitland has found a way to use the journey of one sad, foolish young man to tell a much bigger story about the nature of being. His film pulls at our collective heartstrings, reminding us that many are worse off than ourselves, and somewhere along the way, he manages to convey a sense that everything will work out in the end (even if it’s not what we want or expect). 

It’s still early, but Dear Mr. Brody may be the best documentary of 2021. Don’t miss it.