A touching performance by Kyle Mooney and a narrative which is equal parts uplifting and heart breaking makes Brigsby Bear fantastic.
James (Kyle Mooney) is a super fan of Brigsby Bear, which is a very unsettling show which chronicles the adventures of a human sized bear. The bear looks like Teddy Ruxpin but teaches unusual lessons like “don’t be curious. It’s unnatural” and “only trust family.” He tries to share his love of this oversized bear with people on the internet as well his parents (played by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) who he lives with in an underground bunker. James appears happy with his life, but that is shattered when the FBI raids their bunker. Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) proceeds to tell Brigsby’s biggest fan that all of this was a lie. The people he thought were his parents kidnapped him from the hospital when he was born, and Brigsby Bear was a tool to brainwash him created by his “father.” His birth parents (played by Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins) pick him up from the police station and bring him home for the first time. The narrative quickly pivots to just how stunted he’s been living in that bunker and what an adjustment it will be for James to assimilate in the modern world.
Mooney’s performance as James was undeniably nuanced which made it unique. He gave his character a sensibility that was childlike and completely oblivious to what was transpiring around him. It’s that sensibility that placed under a microscope when he’s reunited with his family at the police station. Life in the bunker leads him to believe we lived in a “Betamax” kind of world when in reality, everything is in “HD.” He doesn’t know how to respond to the news reporters outside the station because of their modern looking equipment, doesn’t know how power grids work, and the only smart phones he’s heard of are ones with an answering machine.
Mooney and Kevin Costello wrote the script for the film. The narrative carefully weaves in themes of wonderment, loss, love, and acceptance. The ultimate question in this picture is whether or not his real family will accept James for who he is now (A Brigsby loving superfan) or will they mourn the loss of what might have been.
Director Dave McCray and Cinematographer Christian Sprenger gave the film a documentary-like feel. Sprenger used unconventional angles to give the audience a feeling of eavesdropping on the characters’ profound personal moments. McCray allowed for moments where the characters appeared to be talking directly to the audience. This stylization of the film gave an intimate feel to the movie. When James is making video blogs about his favorite show, he breaks the third wall and gives us his recap.
What Didn’t Work
Why didn’t 311 Productions fight for a wider distribution? This release is a hidden gem that needs an audience but how can it find one if it’s not marketed effectively?
It’s safe to say that Brigsby Bear is the best film of the summer that very few people went to the theaters to see. Mooney’s performance will tug at your heart strings. The story has a Truman Show vibe to it, the difference being in Brigsby Bear we get to see what happened after he was retrieved from the controlled environment. Just like Truman, James just wants to feel normal again, and Brigsby is the only connection he has to his previous life. Once his birth family realizes this, James understands that family is made up of the people who love you unconditionally.