Brash, bombastic, and pathologically prone to betting the farm on pie-in-the-sky automotive endeavors, Malcolm Bricklin’s four-wheeled roulette rolls have ranged from brilliant (launching the Subaru nameplate in the U.S.) to shameless (unleashing the Yugo on unsuspecting American car buyers.) Taking a stab at deconstructing the inimitable car maven is a new documentary entitled The Entrepreneur, which x-rays Bricklin’s life through the admittedly biased, but surprisingly frank lens of his son, Jonathan.
“In 1983,” narrator and filmmaker Jonathan Bricklin says in the film’s opening sequence, “the Yugo was making my father half a million dollars a month for 24 straight months until he sold the company for $20 million.” As tales of fortunes gained – and even more fortunes lost – unravel, the film tracks the nearly 70 year-old businessman on a global hunt for the next big thing, flying to factories in Poland and India in search of distressed automotive properties that could be alchemized to American gold. Eventually, he locks on to Chinese manufacturer Chery.
“It wasn’t my objective to be objective,” filmmaker Bricklin says of the six year shooting process that yielded the 91-minute documentary. “I wanted it to feel more like a fictional indie film that just happened to be true, versus a traditional documentary.” Artistic aspirations aside, the movie takes on a tone of button-pushing spectacle that’s consistent with Morgan Spurlock’s contribution as an executive producer. But The Entrepreneur seems as fascinated with its subject’s larger-than-life presence as it is with Jonathan’s attempts to decode and display his father’s relentless drive.
While the filmmaker admits to finding his father “one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever witnessed,” he also cites the inevitable discomfort of living in close quarters with his famously pigheaded dad for prolonged periods of time. The tension came to a head one night when they were forced to share a hotel room. “He was burping and farting, and it was so disgusting to me, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to continue any more,” Bricklin recalls. “Then he turned to me and said, “So if we were dating, is this where we’d break up?”
But in the end, Bricklin junior’s potentially hagiographic portrayal of his father is eclipsed by the elder’s showmanship and room-filling charisma. Oft referred to as the “P.T. Barnum of the automobile world,” the septuagenarian’s insistent orbit, eventual stumble, and inevitable new scheme marks a trajectory that seems to have trickled down to his son, who became smitten with the idea of establishing a franchise built around ping pong hangouts. Bricklin says the business, which started in 2009 with a partnership that includes Susan Sarandon and has since spread to five locations, is booming.
Whether or not the sins of the father are visited upon the son, Jonathan sums up the mania succinctly. “If he could do it,” Bricklin concludes, “so could I.”