This is actually a week of movies that have crept up on me.
BRIGSBY BEAR is an indie film that apparently got some positive recognition from Sundance. And… yeah, it looks like it’s warranted from what I saw of the trailer. The story looks like it’s about this man who was possibly kidnapped as a child and became an adult, all the while watching only one kids TV show called “Brigsby Bear.” One day, the police catch the man whom he’s believed to be his father his entire life and tries to adjust to society. When he discovers that there hasn’t been additional episodes of “Brigsby Bear,” the friends he makes decide to help him make new episodes. It honestly reminds me of ROOM (2015), but with the central character being an adult, as opposed to a child.
Let’s take a look at the cast. Starring and co-writing the screenplay, we have Kyle Mooney, known for ZOOLANDER 2 (2016), HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS (2016), and TV show SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. In support, we have the amazing, the great, the amazingly great Mark Hamill (BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE , KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE , BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and the upcoming STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI ), Claire Danes (STARDUST , TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES , and TV show HOMELAND), Michaela Watkins (THE HOUSE , TV shows CASUAL and TROPHY WIFE, and the upcoming PERSON TO PERSON ), Greg Kinnear (GHOST TOWN , LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE , and MYSTERY MEN ), Andy Samberg (STORKS , HOT ROD , TV show BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, and the upcoming animated film HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3 ), and Ryan Simpkins (THE HOUSE, A SINGLE MAN , and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Dave McCary, known for 9 episodes of SNL and short films. Co-writing the script alongside Mooney is Kevin Costello, making is writing debut. Congrats, sir. Composing the score is David Wingo, known for LOVING (2016), MUD (2012), and SNOW ANGELS (2007). Finally, the cinematographer is Christian Sprenger, known for TV shows GLOW on Netflix and ATLANTA.
Overall, this could be a pretty solid film, and I’ll see anything with Mark Hamill in it. So yeah, bring it on. I’m curious.
This is my honest opinion of: BRIGSBY BEAR
James (Kyle Mooney) is a twenty-five year old young man who lives what he believes to be a normal life, living with his mom, April (Jane Adams), and his dad, Ted (Mark Hamill), in his underground home. All his life, he’s only ever seen one TV show, a kids series known as “Brigsby Bear,” which opens up his creative mind. But despite living a relatively happy life, the truth eventually unravels when a squad of police officers arrive and arrest James’ perceived parents. Turns out, as a baby, he was kidnapped and raised as their own, and Brigsby Bear wasn’t a show that everyone knew about as he was lead to believe, but rather a complete fabrication by his kidnapping parents. After reuniting with his long-lost family, his real mother, Louise (Michaela Watkins), father, Greg (Matt Walsh), and younger sister, Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), he has trouble adjusting to his new environment. However, when he’s introduced to films, he’s inspired to create a movie to give an ending to the Brigsby Bear show that never got finished.
Despite how silly this movie’s title is, this is arguably one of the most endearing films of the year. In my initial impressions, I said that this film kind of reminded me of ROOM, but that’s why I don’t do this professionally.
From the beginning, you know this movie is going to be pretty quirky and even weird. It opens on the Brigsby Bear show, and it’s weird. But in the same way that any other kids show is weird. You see, literally, hundreds of VHS tapes of the show all around James’ room, and considering how James is a grown-ass adult, it really gives this incredible atmosphere of just how long he’s been living like this with his parents. Even his relationship with Ted and April is weird. When they sit down at the dinner table to eat, they say some weird… I have no idea, prayer? And they shake hands. They’re loving, in their own way, but it’s certainly unconventional to say the least.
And at first, I had some issues with this set-up. Ted and April live in some kind of small bunker, made to feel like a regular suburban home. But what surprises me and found a little difficult to swallow, there’s this dome area that’s offers a great view of the desert landscape and Ted has clearly built an animatronic “ecosystem” right in front of the dome. Like, fireflies and foxes that are clearly machines, but Ted somehow doesn’t know that. He thinks they’re real. I mean, I accept that these people aren’t monsters in the strictest of senses. James and Ted do have those heart-to-heart talks about never letting anyone take away his capacity for imagination. They’ve fed, clothed, and taught him math all his life, but why completely fictionalize everything else he knows? He later doesn’t know what a dog is, even though his fictional fox thing is clearly of the canine family. Why shelter him from a world that they could have known he’d be reintegrated into? If James has known how to leave his code-locked home, how has he not explored past his own territory? At some point, wouldn’t he have taken off that gas mask to see if his parents were telling the truth about the poisonous air? And how did the police happen to track down these people? Most of these questions can be speculated on, but the rest are left completely unexplored.
But then again, I had issues with the set-up of THE MARTIAN (2015), and that was my number three favorite movie of 2015. I will honestly give a movie a pass if all of my problems are in the set-up of the story and the rest of the movie is executed perfectly for my taste. Such was the case for THE MARTIAN, such is the case here. As soon as James is brought into the world that he didn’t know existed, it’s an awkward transition. He’s in a police interrogation room with Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear), and he asks James if his “parents” ever… “touched” him. James responds with “yes,” and demonstrates how he was touched… via a handshake. It’s surprisingly humorous.
The rest of the film does dabble in the fish out of water story, but it’s pretty brief by comparison to the rest of the plot. Like, he’s taken to the cinemas and a teenage party, where he obviously gets drunk and high and nearly taken advantage of sexually, but each of these moments do serve the plot. When he’s at the movies, he discovers his love of the medium, which inadvertently launches his desires to make a Brigsby Bear movie. The party he goes to, that’s where he meets his friends who ultimately help him make his movie. So they aren’t just there to serve as comedic moments, although they are awkwardly funny, but they do have a purpose that most stories like this can’t claim to be as smart about.
His relationships with everyone are also really nice to see play out too. Even though no one knows what he’s talking about when he rants on and on about Brigsby, it’s hard not to be able to relate, as I am also a fan of Star Wars and a few video games. I can go on and on about the mythologies and stories and know that certain people wouldn’t understand a thing I’m saying. To see someone go on and on about a kids show isn’t dissimilar to how I was with Power Rangers, so I can’t say that I didn’t empathize. But to see how everyone he interacts with takes him in and accepts him, understanding his situation, they don’t write him off. They just let him ramble and get sucked into his nerd talk. Hell, Spencer (Jorge Lendegorg Jr.) even uploads the Brigsby show onto the internet, which develops a popularity all its own.
I was about to have problems with Aubrey and Vogel. Aubrey, for whatever reason, completely shuts him down. She doesn’t accept him into the family. We’re never shown why, either. She immediately tells him not to be weird and not to acknowledge that they’re related, it’s pretty unlikable. Even though the transition to her accepting him is nonexistent, I still found their connection to be such a breakthrough in their relationship and couldn’t help but smile. And this movie clearly takes some liberties with how police officers conduct their business. By meaning, when something gets put into evidence, that doesn’t come out unless it’s part of the investigation. So… Vogel will take that evidence from the police station and give it to James after he talks about following dreams and shit? I don’t think so, no matter how taken in by James anyone would be. But fine, Kinnear is such a charming and charismatic actor that I would accept this suspension of disbelief.
I think that’s one of the better aspects about this movie, that it takes your expectations, but kind of plays with them and gives them something of an emotional payoff. As much as you don’t want to like Ted and April, it’s impossible to call them monsters because he raise him to be an imaginative, polite, and kind person that everyone gravitates toward. I expected to hate Aubrey, but she ends up being a very likable character, the cops never really get James into trouble when they find out about the Brigsby head, and his parents, as much as they hate what Brigsby represents to him, they know what good it’s done to him too. It’s a very complicated web of relationships, but it all works so well.
Overall, I love this movie. It’s charming, engaging, and emotional. It’s a wonderful ode to imagination and owning what you find to be great and impactful. Sadly, I don’t know how long the shelf life will be on this movie, or what kind of release it will have in the coming weeks, but if you can find it playing near you, I highly recommend it.
My honest rating for BRIGSBY BEAR: 5/5