Review: “Brigsby Bear”
When I walked into the movie theatre, I didn’t know much about this film. I’d read a little bit that told me this was likely to be offbeat and original but all I really knew was that James Pope, the main character grew up watching a television show made just for him. I’m glad I didn’t know more because this movie was full of charm but also twists. It captures your imagination and embodies friendship, creativity, and the wonder of storytelling.
Kyle Mooney plays James Pope, a young man who has spent his whole life in a bunker with his parents, Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams). He’s grown up watching a television show featuring a magical bear called Brigsby Bear. Within the show, Brigsby has adventures through space and time with the help of the Smile Sisters, solving problems using math. James loves the show and spends most of his day, re-watching it, with posters and toys from the show plastering his room. He chats with other viewers and writes stories about it. Then one day he steps outside the bunker and finds out his entire life is a lie.
Without going into details and spoiling the movie for viewers, I can share that James goes on a journey of self-discovery as he tries to make sense of his life. As part of his process, he decides to create a Brigsby Bear movie as a catalyst for discovering his identity and as a way to connect to the world around him. Along the way he makes new friends and learns about never giving up in the face of adversity.
Part of what makes this such a heartwarming and funny movie is the acting of Kyle Mooney. He manages to balance innocence with a feeling of him being out of place as he learns about the world outside his bunker. He feels authentic and real, his struggle to connect an honest one and his passion to create his movie draws everyone into his world. Not only does he do a good job with the emotions but he also helped to write the script with the help of his partner Kevin Costello and under the direction of his friend David McCrary. These three have done an excellent job of blending the world of Brigsby with the real world, juxtapositioning scenes from the television show with James’ journey. The world of this make believe show is a nod to television shows that I grew up with in the seventies and eighties, including Dr. Who which was originally a children’s show. The references are really what sell the whole idea.
In addition to Kyle Mooney, there are several excellent performances. Mark Hamill is perfectly cast as the offbeat, unusual Ted, a toy inventor and creator of the Brigsby Bear show. His voice acting is also part of what creates the authenticity of the world of the show, as you can tell immediately that he has created the voices of the characters within Brigsby Bear. Greg Kinnear plays an affable deputy who helps James, acting in his movie and providing support. Jorge Lendeborg Jr. plays Spencer who joins James in building the world for the movie, creating special effects for James. His wide eyed joy and energy help you believe in what James is trying to do.
The entire process of James creating a movie is used to good effect, showing his ability to using his life experience to create a new vision, highlighting his originality which in turns shows the originality of the creators of this film. One of the best parts is watching James story board his movie and then go create it, building props and costumes for the movie.
The movie is hilarious. From James experiencing his first contact with a girl to his building a bomb to create an explosion for his movie, there are many funny scenes that made both me and my husband crack up. The dialogue only adds to the humor, with lines like “How are you even this wasted?” as James experiences his first party or “Curiosity is an unnatural emotion” a line from the Brigsby Bear show. Yet, the comedy is kept warm and grounded by Kyle Mooney’s portrayal, his sweetness making you love the character.
The only part that didn’t work for me was a plot device wherein a psychiatrist (Claire Danes) attempts to get James to stop obsessing over Brigsby Bear. Given the turmoil in his life and the truths he discovers, her lack of understanding of what coping mechanisms he needs falls flat. From the little I know of psychology, she would most likely use the framework he has built to help him process and adjust to reality. Instead she tries to force him to give up the one thing that is actually helping him to connect and build a new life. This lacked the authenticity of the rest of the film.
This is a heartfelt, quirky, charming movie. If you like teddy bears and blending a magical television show with reality, this movie will leave you laughing and delighted. The premise of friendship and creativity will resonate with most of us and those of us who remember the seventies/eighties will laugh at the nod to old shows. And if you’ve ever been a star struck fan of any show, you will connect with James Pope as he creates his own magic.
Rating: 4 stars