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Review: Brigsby Bear (2017)

Brigsby Bear (2017)

Directed by: Dave McCary

Premise: James (Kyle Mooney) has spent his life in a bunker, secluded from the world and watching the children’s television show Brigsby Bear. When James is freed, he discovers the show was manufactured by his abductive parents and he sets out to make his own movie.

What Works: Brigsby Bear is a unique movie that is especially suited to this particular time. The premise is a cross between Room and Son of Rambow; James is abducted as a child and raised in a bunker by a married couple who he assumes are his parents. All his life he is told that the outside world is a wasteland and he spends his days watching the children’s television show Brigsby Bear and obsessing over the minutia of the story world. As an adult, James is rescued, learns the truth about the world, and discovers that Brigsby Bear was created by his abductors. While adjusting to life and getting to know his biological family, James acquires the props from the show and produces his own Brigsby Bear feature film. The unusual premise of this movie allows it to comment upon a number of things that are relevant to this particular cultural moment. Brigsby Bear is primarily about the transition from youth to adulthood and James’ obsession with this children’s program is not all that different from the contemporary phenomenon of extended adolescence and cultural obsessions with properties such as Star Wars and comic book superheroes. Brigsby Bear is also about fandom and the intense passion that people have for the stories and characters that they love. This film neither shames fandom nor does it extol the virtues of ignorance; James is of adult age and so the Brigsby Bear show is a part of his identity and the one thing he has left after being freed from his captors. And yet James has to evolve his interests if he is going to function as a sociable adult. That takes the form of video production and creation becomes a form of therapy. Within its wacky conceit, Brigsby Bear acts out something profound about the experience of growing up, the way art can be transformational, but also how people can bury themselves in nostalgia. Brigsby Bear is led by Kyle Mooney as James. Mooney commits to the material and allows himself to be awkward. Mooney’s performance gives the unusual premise a lot of credibility and he is funny but also an accessible protagonist. The movie has an authentic retro feel in the Brigsby Bear segments. The program is clearly influenced by 1980s children’s programming and it captures the style and goofiness of those shows.

What Doesn’t: Brigsby Bear has a strange premise and the audience is either going to go along with the movie’s weirdness or they aren’t. Those who do will find a lot to enjoy in Brigsby Bear but for some viewers this film may be too odd to be accessible. There are a few parts of Brigsby Bear that aren’t quite as well done as they could be, especially the interactions between James and his biological parents, played by Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins. The actors are fine but the movie rushes through their relationship and doesn’t fully account for how this young man must accept that these are his real parents. Brigsby Bear also plays fast and loose with its credibility. The point of the story is this character entering the adult world and all of its rules and expectations. But those rules are broken pretty easily and with few repercussions.

DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and trailers.

Bottom Line: Brigsby Bear is a unique movie. It is essentially a coming of age tale but its eccentric style and unusual premise make Brigsby Bear a wonderfully weird piece of cinema that’s actually quite relevant to our current day and age.

Episode: #678 (December 17, 2017)