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Review: ‘Dear Mr. Brody’ examines a fanciful $25-million giveaway offer

People seated around a table read through stacks of letters.
An image from the documentary “Dear Mr. Brody.”
(Greenwich Entertainment / Discovery+)
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Chances are, the name Michael Brody Jr. wouldn’t ring a bell for most people, but for a momentous couple of weeks back in 1970, the peace-and-love-touting 21-year-old from Scarsdale, N.Y., ignited a media frenzy when he offered to give away a share of his $25-million inheritance just for the asking.

Over the course of the pandemonium to follow, the margarine company heir would consort with Walter Cronkite and John Lennon, appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and sign a recording contract as thousands of letters came flooding into his home each day, even as it became clear he wasn’t going to be able to make good on his outlandish proposition.

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That pop-culture-charged lightning in a bottle has been incisively captured in Keith Maitland’s “Dear Mr. Brody,” incorporating psychedelic animations and dramatic re-creations to both amusing and moving effect as it sheds light on an individual whose existence seemed to reside at the intersection of “Willy Wonka,” “The Magic Christian” and “Being There.”

The intrigue wasn’t lost on Hollywood producer Ed Pressman (the current custodian of all that mail), who had attempted to turn Brody’s story into a feature film with Richard Dreyfuss and John Travolta among the sought-after leads.

As with his 2016 documentary “Tower,” which recounted a 1966 mass shooting in Texas, director Maitland is most concerned with those whose stories get buried beneath the headlines, and here, he brings them into the foreground by having a handful of those correspondences read aloud, half a century later, by the original senders,

Whether his subject was a man of good intention whose virtuousness was clouded by drug-fueled mental illness or an attention-seeking opportunist who would have been right at home among today’s social media insta-celebs, it ultimately makes no difference.

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Brody may have been a 15-minutes-of-fame footnote, but those tens of thousands of mainly unopened letters left in his wake continue to offer a penetrating glimpse into the persisting vulnerability of the human condition.

‘Dear Mr. Brody’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: Starts March 4, Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica

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