Hot Docs Review: Candyman: The David Klein Story

If you look up the history of Jelly Belly jellybeans you won’t find David Klein’s name mentioned anywhere. Yet the jolly and eccentric California candy entrepreneur was the one who invented, marketed, and promoted the famous gourmet candy in the 1970s. Jelly Bellies revolutionized the candy industry, became a pop culture phenomenon, and the company now makes billions of dollars a year. Sadly, David Klein sees none of it.

Klein doesn’t look like your typical businessman, but don’t let his Michael Moore-style looks and gait fool you: his drive to succeed is fierce. It’s thanks only to his tireless efforts that the world’s most expensive jellybean was not just invented, but took off and became the biggest success story in the history of the candy industry. For a while he was at the top of his game, but his good nature and mensch-like personality would soon be the cause of his downfall.

This real life Willy Wonka is a smart and driven man who made some really bad business decisions – decisions that cost him the company he loved. His generosity, kindness, and regular displays of altruism led him down a path that would end in him selling the business for peanuts and losing everything. Ultimately he was completely erased from the company’s history.

Klein has a sweet and jubilant personality and the film captures it nicely, but Candyman lacks the depth required to justify its feature-length running time. There are a lot of issues the movie hints at but never delves into. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that despite Klein’s cheerful enthusiasm, there’s an undercurrent of rage and anger that no one (including director Costa Botes) wants to confront. He wants recognition and he wants it bad (not that you can blame him). There’s also a noticeable strain between him and his son Bert (a producer on the film) that’s never really explored. Interviewed in the film, Bert seems to imply that his father may have taken the pain of his financial collapse out on his kids. But the film only hints at those threads leaving the audience wondering what really went on. As a result the movie lacks tension and drama.

Klein’s story is actually really interesting and as far as documentary subjects go, he has all the makings of a good one: eccentric, personable, and a victim of his own kindness. His story could make a really great movie, unfortunately this one isn’t it.

The Upside: A heartwarming story about a nice guy who finished last.

The Downside: It doesn’t look deep enough to uncover the how’s and why’s. It doesn’t want to do anything to contradict the nice guy image and falls flat because of it.

On the Side: Klein’s office is littered with paper plates. He writes everything down on them because he figures they’re not as easy to lose as post-it notes.

Grade: C+

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Lauren Flanagan is a freelance film and entertainment writer based in Toronto. She writes for several online and print publications and hopes to one day prove to her parents that sitting around watching movies is in fact doing something with your life. She enjoys gangster movies, long walks on the beach, and getting the upper hand. In her spare time she drives around in a van solving mysteries.

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