Brigsby Bear

brigsby-bear rev Brigsby Bear  (2017)    Sony Pictures Classic/Comedy-Drama    RT: 100 minutes    Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug material, teen partying)    Director: Dave McCary    Screenplay: Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello    Music: David Wingo    Cinematography: Christian Sprenger    Release date: August 11, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Claire Danes, Beck Bennett, Alexa Demie, Chance Crimin, Kate Lyn Shell, Kiera Milian Hendricks, Andy Samberg, Jane Adams.


 I was deeply moved by Brigsby Bear. By the end, I was near tears. I didn’t expect that. I haven’t reacted this strongly to a movie in a long time. I realize it’s supposed to be a comedy and it is funny at times but it’s more than what it seems prima facie. I would describe it as a seriocomic take on Room, the brilliant 2015 drama about a couple of kidnap victims trying to adjust to the outside world after years of captivity. The protagonist of Brigsby Bear faces the very same challenge. Taken from his family as an infant, James (SNL’s Mooney) is found and rescued after 25 years as a prisoner of a disturbed couple in their underground home.

brigsby bear Phil (Hamill, Star Wars) and April (Adams, Twin Peaks) have James convinced that the outside world is a polluted place unfit for human habitation. The air is so toxic, you have to wear a gas mask if you venture outside. James’ only connection to the outside world is a children’s show called Brigsby Bear. It’s an educational sci-fi show about a heroic bear who keeps his world safe from a giant talking planet. One night, several police cars show up and arrest Phil and April. Shortly thereafter, James is reunited with his real family, dad Greg (Walsh, Ghostbusters), mom Louise (Watkins, Enough Said) and younger sister Aubrey (Simpkins, The House).

 James’ period of readjustment is hampered by his obsession with Brigsby Bear. It comes as a shock when he learns that it’s not a real show. It was created by his parents for him alone; nobody else has ever seen it. He comes up with the idea of making a Brigsby Bear movie to close the series. He discusses his idea at a party Aubrey takes him to. Her friend Spencer (Lendeborg, Spider-Man: Homecoming), a budding filmmaker, wants to help him make the movie. So do a few of the other teens. Spencer uploads episodes of Brigsby on YouTube where it becomes an instant sensation. James manages to convince the detective (Kinnear, As Good as It Gets) who solved his case to return the props the police confiscated when they arrested his captors. Mom and Dad don’t approve of James making the movie as they feel it will hinder his chances at living a normal life.

 It’s no mystery what the movie represents. It’s James’ way of dealing with his lifelong ordeal. It’s his way of gaining closure, closing the book on that chapter of his life. In that respect, Brigsby Bear is quite touching, especially in the way others step in and help James make his movie. Not everybody can see its healing potential especially the psychiatrist (Danes, Homeland) who thinks he needs to forget about Brigsby altogether and get on with his life. At one point, she convinces his real parents to institutionalize him. Not all doctors are helpful.

 I LOVE Brigsby Bear! I think it’s one of the best movies of the summer. Hell, it’s one of the best movies of the year. It’s almost perfect. My only problem with it is that it doesn’t embrace its quirkiness as fully as it should. The writers, Mooney and Kevin Costello, have created a kid’s show more bizarre than anything created by Sid and Marty Krofft (HR Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos). The movie Brigsby Bear is definitely strange but not strange enough. Why not take advantage of the fact that it co-stars Mark Hamill, one of the biggest fanboy icons of the past 40 years? I just think Dave McCary, the SNL digital short director making his feature film debut, could have taken things a step or two further. Still, Brigsby Bear is an excellent movie.

 After appearing in rancid comedies like Zoolander 2 and Neighbors 2 (you need to stay away from those sequels, Kyle!), Mooney acquits himself nicely with his role in Brigsby Bear. James is kind of like Starman, an innocent child seeing the world for the first time. The way he repeats phrases, his uncensored honesty about his feelings and his enthusiasm when discussing Brigsby with others, it’s all rather charming. Hamill has some good moments. Simpkins more than makes up for her involvement with this summer’s wretched The House. I knew there was something about her. She’s really good as the initially stand-offish sister who grows close to the brother she knew of but never knew. Fellow SNL vets Beck Bennett and Andy Samberg make nice contributions in smaller parts. Kinnear also has some great moments as the cop who dreamed of being an actor once upon a time (until reality set in). James gives him a chance to finally realize his old dream.

 One of the cool things about Brigsby Bear is how it celebrates fandom. It conveys the message that fandom isn’t necessarily a destructive force. It can also help us. Think about that the next time you poke fun at a group of Jedi nerds. It’s also an ode to filmmaking. Creativity has serious healing powers. Look at how making the Brigsby movie helps James with his social skills. There’s a lot to love and admire about Brigsby Bear. I can even see it becoming a cult film. It’s an odd dramedy that won’t appeal to every moviegoer. I accept that I’m in the minority of viewers moved by this film. I highly recommend it.

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