Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox
You can't say Dr. Bronner didn't lead a remarkable life, so it's rather unfortunate that the weakest parts of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox are the sequences during which Bronner himself is talking — expounding on his All-One philosophy, explaining his weird diet, what have you. His Spaceship-Earth belief system is kooky, I suppose, but the kook is mostly in the delivery; it isn't really all that elaborate, and one or two shots of hippies listening, rapt, to his lectures back in the day is adequate. More than that, it feels like filler. Bronner is more interesting in the third person, somehow.
I was drawn in by the family stories — the comparisons and contrasts in how Bronner's sons (and respective grandsons) approached his legacy. In Bronner himself existed both a soap-maker and a truth-seeker (although his relative success in either or both of those endeavors is to some degree a matter of opinion), but those two aspects of the Dr. Bronner "experience" — that it's a handy all-in-one soap, but also a cultural touchstone because of the labels — got split off from one another in the next generation, some descendents focusing on the product as their legacy, others on the message. The movie lets the audience draw its own conclusions about that, but director Sara Lamm could have gone further with it.
Lamm's picture of Ralph Bronner, one of the sons, is strong work. Initially he presents as a somewhat pitiable figure, but that portrait evolves; he has a real gift for talking to people (and getting them to give him hugs, which, although odd, don't seem coerced). She captures a sad, pretty moment with Ralph and his new friend, Keith Waa — Waa is playing the piano, Ralph is bonding with Waa's pug, and Lamm knows life is giving her a picture the way it does sometimes, so she frames it and stands aside. And the film finally kind of finishes cohering right there.
It seems like Lamm didn't know what story she wanted to tell initially, or about whom, so the first 30-40 minutes feel scattershot, with the man-on-the-street material and the title cards; once she figures out what she's trying to say, it gets more focused and watchable.
Tags: movies retail