Charming, sincere, and frequently hilarious, Brigsby Bear has all the necessities for an indie movie hit.
If you’ve managed to avoid trailers prior to watching this film so as not to gauge what this film will be about, its opening moments manage to do little to clarify exactly what direction it will end up going, but this is never to its detriment. It is best approached with as little information as possible, and indeed the film itself holds back on some information, deliberately drip-feeding the audience as much as is necessary, mirroring the experience of lead character James (Kyle Mooney).
Spending his childhood and much of his adult life in isolation, James lives a sheltered life and is lead to believe by his parents that the air outside is toxic and dangerous. So far, so post-apocalyptic, but surrounded by memorabilia of his favourite TV show, the titular ‘Brigsby Bear’, James’ existence is a happy, albeit detached, one. Eventually James learns the truth; that he was kidnapped as a baby by those he believed were his parents (the wonderful Mark Hamill in a rare non-Star Wars role, and Jane Adams), and that much of his life, including his beloved ‘Brigsby Bear’, has been a lie. Whilst he is free from his physical confines, James is unable to escape from the safety blanket of the show he cherishes and sets about making a movie to continue his heroes adventures.
It’s concept is certainly a unique one, and you’ll unlikely have seen something like this utterly charming movie before. Think the horrifying captive story of Room (2015), meets the fandom-driven passion of Be Kind Rewind (2008); it’s an odd combination but somehow it just works. Brigsby Bear has a delightfully appreciative self-deprecation about it, whilst also being a heartfelt tribute to the art of creativity and the power of imagination.
Kyle Mooney (of Saturday Night Live fame) is absolutely revelatory in his role as James, totally embodying the character for all his quirks, childlikeness, and naivete. There are some subtle nuances to his performance which are just note-perfect, and crucially he is never the butt of a joke despite his hilarious awkwardness. There’s something quite magical about the way in which he changes his performance; visibly struggling with social interaction, yet completely coming alive whenever he gets to share his passion for Brigsby.
What is so wonderful about this film is that it is genuinely sincere, without a cynical bone in its body; something which is rare, and totally refreshing. James is the loveable weirdo, yet he is totally embraced by his family and new-found friends, who despite their initial reservations, support him in making his movie. Even the hilariously brazen propaganda of Brigsby (with it’s slogans such as “Curiosity is an unnatural emotion”) cannot dampen the irresistible warmth of this film, which celebrates the outcasts, fandom, pop culture, and the power of a great story.
Brigsby Bear’s humour is a little one-note, and it may just be too whimsical for some, but it is impossible not to be at least a little bit charmed by it. Taking the childlike notion of boundless imagination and applying it to adult creativity, it is full of wide-eyed wonder and appreciation for the art of creating, and particularly movie-making. A real surprise, and one of the most genuinely likeable and consistently hilarious films this year.