Speedcubing is the sport of solving a classic Rubik’s Cube — or a related combination puzzle — in the shortest amount of time possible. And, no, it is not for the faint of heart.
The new Netflix documentary on this subject, The Speed Cubers, dives headfirst into the friendly but competitive speedcubing culture. The 40-minute film is one of three new documentary shorts debuting on Netflix this summer. (The others are The Claudia Kishi Club, which premiered following the release of The Baby-Sitters Club series, and John Was Trying to Contact Aliens, which arrives Aug. 20.)
The Speed Cubers centers on a couple of professional competitors who go head-to-head at the World Cube Association World Championship in Melbourne, Australia, in 2019. Feliks Zemdegs is a 23-year-old from Australia trying to retain his Rubik’s Cube records, particularly in the 3x3x3 event, in which competitors try to solve a classic Rubik’s Cube in the shortest amount of time. Max Park is a skilled 17-year-old American with autism who, in addition to speedcubing for the fun of it, uses the sport to overcome social setbacks. Though Max at first idolizes Feliks, he grows skilled over time and becomes a serious competitor. The rivalry between the two doesn’t stop them from becoming friends and cheering for one another. However, they can’t both take first place in the coming big 3x3x3 championship event.
Though The Speed Cubers‘ premise is basic, it’s plenty entertaining. The world of speedcubing is quirky in the best way possible. The competitors are brilliant, the commentators are just as dynamic as other sports announcers, and the supporters are fully engaged. It’s fun to watch so many kids and young adults get excited about an unconventional interest, and heartwarming to see Max and Feliks lift each another up when they don’t do as well as they hope. Feliks is consistently quick to congratulate his pal, even when it means his own records have been beaten.
Early on, The Speed Cubers features an animation that illustrates the Cube-solving process alongside narration from an expert, who explains that while winning the game requires the memorization of around 300 algorithms, top-scoring speedcubers can do it in a matter of seconds.
The documentary deepens the story with compelling anecdotes from the guys and their parents to demonstrate the importance of speedcubing in their lives. Max’s mom reveals that her son seemed trapped in his own world and struggled with his finger skills as a toddler. After spending lots of dedicated time with Max and later introducing him to a Rubik’s Cube, she was able to see him overcome many of the obstacles he used to face. Feliks, meanwhile, is especially thrilled about the upcoming Melbourne competition, because it’s the place where he first became interested in speedcubing.
The Speed Cubers is as visually vibrant as it is emotionally bright. The championships are filled with the primary colors found on the Rubik’s Cubes, which gives the film a playful aesthetic. That, in combination with the fast-paced character of the puzzle, keeps up the presentation’s high spirits.
For all that’s feel-good about The Speed Cubers, there are some narrative choices that make less sense. While the chosen leads are great picks because they’re not only at the top of their game but also companions with one another, the documentary would have benefited from pulling in some other perspectives. For example, 18-year-old French competitor Juliette Sébastien is briefly mentioned as the first female 3x3x3 finalist to make a world championship since 2003, but little else is said about her. She is currently one of only four women with a top 100 record in the single 3x3x3 event, and I would have loved to learn more. And, though I won’t spoil the ending, there are other high-scoring underdogs with points of view that went largely untapped. The sport is a fascinating one, and other voices could have given more insight as to how a person gets into it and climbs the ranks.
While The Speed Cubers misses a few opportunities, it’s simple and fun. It’s not particularly layered, but it is uplifting as it offers a caring look at the friendship between two speedcubing frontrunners. Plus, you’ll probably want to go out and buy a Rubik’s Cube when you’re done.
The Speed Cubers is now streaming on Netflix.