‘Brigsby Bear’ Is Full Of Quirky Heart (Movie Review)

How much do you love your favorite TV show? That’s just one of the questions asked in Brigsby Bear, a quirky comedy co-written by and starring Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney. Here is a film that sets up a strange premise, twists our perception and finds a way to make it all feel oh so earnest. There is a very subdued sense of humor here that goes along with the familiar indie vibe, but a level of drama that plays well into this film’s story. There’s a nice journey to watch here, and it comes with the establishment of a children’s show that calls to mind nostalgic love for what 80s entertainment for adolescents had to offer.

Mooney stars as James, a 30-something man who lives in a secluded world consisting of only himself and his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). James spends his days watching and analyzing episodes of Brigsby Bear Adventures, a children’s show that balances fantasy adventure with education. It is soon revealed to James that there is more to his world than just the underground home he has lived in his entire life. Upon exiting that home and going on to live with new people, however, James still finds a need for Brigsby, despite also learning that this was a show made entirely for him.

Brigsby Bear reminded me of the oddness found in Frank, the film that featured Michael Fassbender in a paper-mâché head for the entire movie. Fittingly enough, Frank’s director Lenny Abrahamson would go on to direct Room, which also has a strange amount of ideas in common with Brigsby. The difference is, of course, the tone, as Brigsby is mostly a comedy, but also the sense of optimism to be found in it. While Jacob Tremblay had a unique perspective that Room was built around, Brigsby has its unique take on what it means to discover the world for the first time and how to cope with the immense change in how to live.

The marketing and the filmmakers have been intentionally vague about the exact nature of this movie, and I would recommend going in as blind as possible. Even with a brief summary, there are surprises to be found within the film. That said, something I enjoyed quite a bit about Brigsby was how it chose to handle its weirdness. This is a movie that gets a lot of mileage out of its quirkiness, as James is socially awkward, given the circumstances. There’s a way Brigsby could have challenged its earnest sensibilities by adding in the harsh, cynical realities of now being in the real world. However, the characters are warm to James, and the biggest conflict becomes how to best help him in his quest to show Brigsby Bear Adventures to the world.

Mooney and director Dave McCary are friends, along with co-writer Kevin Costello. This group brings to mind The Lonely Island, which is fitting since that group served as producers on the film, with a small role going to Andy Samberg as well. I make a note of this because Brigsby does feel like the effort of friends who wanted to put together something small and personal that also makes them laugh. It is clear that a level of passion went into the making of this film, but it stands to reason that it’s riding a line of being in the know as far as just how familiar the indie film aspects of this movie are. It’s not a parody of indie films involving troubled young white guys that do weird stuff, but I couldn’t imagine this crew being oblivious to what we are seeing.

I’m familiar enough with Mooney’s work on SNL and Brigsby does feel like a natural extension of the weirder filmed skits he is involved with on that show. Fortunately, he was able to secure a lot of additional talent to go along with him on this odd endeavor. Hamill gets a fine role to play in a tricky performance, given what we learn. Also around is a solid Greg Kinnear as a detective who just wants to help. Other members of the cast include Claire Danes, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Kate Lyn Sheil, Beck Bennett and Jorge Lendeborg Jr., a new actor who lends a lot of charm to this film as a new friend for James.

In mentioning all the members of the cast, I again find it necessary to note how much everyone just wants to help James. It would be very easy for the film to make the James character the punchline of every joke, but while we laugh at the fish-out-of-water angle, it’s not because we are rooting for him to fail. There is no meanness in Brigsby Bear, which speaks a lot to the type of film we are watching. Perhaps it could be considered a bit shallow, given the implications of what James has gone through in his development, but it’s the tone of the film that had me overlooking such things.

I enjoyed Brigsby Bear. There’s a strong, sympathetic performance from Mooney that centers this film and plenty of confidence in how it is handling the story being told. There’s also a joy to be found in the nature of the show within this film, especially as we see how the cast goes about bringing it back to life. It’s certainly an odd movie, but also the kind of smaller film to take in as something that was made to be meaningful and heartfelt. For me, it succeeded.

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