Doc of the Day: Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story

Posted in Days of Docs, Reviews by - July 15, 2012

 It’s one of the most popular board games in the world. If you ever wanted to know more about it, well, look no further than this movie.

Dir. Kevin Tostado, 2010, 88 min

I’ve said again and again that anything, anything, can be a good subject for a documentary.

Under the Boardwalk makes me think I might have been wrong about that.

There are good ways to tell history. None of those ways involve talking down to your audience. As narrator, Zachary Levi throws all of his effort (which involves way more exuberance than is ever necessary in a voiceover, especially when you’re dealing with a board game) into trying to make this stuff engaging. It doesn’t really work. It makes the movie feel like an episode of a Nick Jr. show.

In theory, some of this is interesting. It turns out that Monopoly existed as a game for thirty years before it was ever officially sold, getting passed around as a sort of prototype-bootleg, gradually developing into something like the game we all know and love/hate to play. It was originally conceived as The Landlord’s Game in 1903 by a woman named Elizabeth Magie, who designed it as a critique of the renting system of the time. It was coded criticism of capitalism at its most Darwinian. Ironically, that spirit still kinda/sorta survives in the game today. After all, it encourages people to utterly destroy one another in a quest for total dominance. Huh, maybe that’s why it’s so popular.

One minor thing that the movie seems to confirm is that only people with a weird vindictive and/or competitive streak get really into Monopoly. After all, why else would one guy cheat on the Internet qualifying game for the World Championship… and get away with it? That’s about as interesting as the movie gets. There are scattered tidbits that might amuse, although mostly it’s just kibble. There’s one segment where people go on about which token is their favorite to use, which might just be the most boring thing I’ve ever seen.

The doc follows the World Monopoly Championship, but that’s really just the malformed, Elephant Man-like skeleton on which to hang historical and trivia factoids about the game. But here’s the thing: games are boring. People are interesting. What does Monopoly say about people? What does it bring out in them? Why is it so enduringly popular? There’s an answer there, and it’s really intriguing. But it’s not in this movie.

I chose Under the Boardwalk as my Doc of the Day because I was in the mood for something light. I still wanted something more substantial than whipped cream, though. And it’s not even like real whipped cream. It’s like the pre-cream that splooges out with air when you haven’t properly shaken the can. That’s how much of a nothing this documentary is.

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Dan Schindel loves movies more than you do.

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