MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Brigsby Bear’ is the one of the most emotionally endearing films in years

Thanks to a quirky, yet restrained screenplay and even more killer performance from Kyle Mooney, this indie dramedy is a resonant ride from start to finish

| August 17, 2017

Indie comedies are hit or miss when it comes to their final effects. Some comedies, such as the über-successful “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” offer up wonderful laughs with a large amount of heart. Others, like “The Hollars,” miss their mark with unlikable characters, mismatched tones and uneven jokes. From Sundance this year, the indie comedy hit in full force, with films like “Ingrid Goes West,” “Patti Cake$,” (both upcoming reviews here at the Niner Times) and “Brigsby Bear” taking full force, with Netflix comedy “I don’t feel at home in this world anymore” taking the Grand Jury Prize (with Netflix then choosing to drop the film in complete silence in the middle of March with no publicity. Even I missed its release for review). The first of these comedies to hit my dashboard was “Brigsby Bear,” a film I actually heard about long before its Sundance premiere, as I consider myself a big Saturday Night Live fan, I was hooked from the very idea of Kyle Mooney taking on his own film. Mooney is one of the strongest players on the show, but finds himself with little fanfare compared to his more popular counterparts, and “Brigsby Bear,” no matter how strange, hooked me from that sole principle alone.

And here we are, complaining yet again about how Mooney’s comedic genius goes yet again unnoticed.

“Brigsby Bear” follows James Pope, a 25 year-old man sequestered in his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Addams) bunker home in the desert, with the danger of an outside, dystopian world looking to destroy him. His parents supply him with a single television show to fill his days, a strange, low-budget children’s show entitled “Brigsby Bear Adventures,” which teaches him lessons on how to survive in the sequestered world inside his home. When his family’s home is raided, James soon learns that his parents are actually his kidnappers that abducted him as a toddler from his biological parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins). Returned to his real family in an unfamiliar, vast world, James finds it difficult to function without his favorite television show helping him along the way, to which he finds out his captor “father” had been producing the episodes for him weekly to keep him restrained. Seeing the beauty and importance in the show that taught him everything he knows, James sets out to create a final “Brigsby Bear Adventures” movie with his newfound teenage friends to finally move into the future.

I was hesitant in describing the plot of “Brigsby Bear,” as I didn’t know the plot going into the film, but I feel as if the simple, vague description of the film provided by the producers doesn’t give viewers enough of the film’s charm to persuade viewers to seek out the film, something you must find the time to do. “Brigsby Bear” isn’t the type of film that’s going to sweep the Oscars, nor is it a film that’s going to please those looking for a laugh riot, but this is a charming, funny, occasionally heartbreaking, incredibly inventive and quirky to a T film that finds a balance in everything correctly as to not overload itself on any sort of faux-“quirkiness” that pervades many indie dramas today.

Mooney is a revelation as James, whose juvenile demeanor never feels infantile or stupid, but rather misinformed about the ways of life. He was never deprived of knowledge or love in his captive home, but simply lacked the social skills to really branch out into what society views as “normality.” This is a beautifully restrained and incredibly moving performance that never overplays one element over the other, with his funny side never feeling overshadowed by the heartbreaking sweetness that is so apparent in his character. It’s rare that a film finds itself with a character so inherently good and keeps him inherently good throughout the film. This is such a touching, heartfelt performance that deserves every bit of credit it’s getting thus far, and more.

Written by Mooney and his longtime collaborator Kevin Costello, this obviously isn’t a typical comedy, in fact, the film’s dramatic side is the one that leaves the biggest mark on the soul viewing the film. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t reduced to happy tears during the final scene of the film and felt completely vulnerable as a grown-ass man. This is a film that plays on so many different emotional levels while still remaining charming and funny in a way that never feels out of whack with itself.

Directed by Dave McCary, “Brigsby Bear” takes on a surreal, golden-hued, lush, dream-like look that fits the film’s dream-like treatment of the outside world James encounters for the first time wonderfully. This is a film with a sensitive hand behind the camera that brings along the journey with James and lets the audience feel first-hand the amount of foreign information that overloads James upon entering normal American society, and the fear and anxiety he feels without his favorite show guiding him along the way. I think we all felt this way about losing touch with a childhood love over time, but with James, finds himself being forcibly ripped away from it and told that it was bad for him.

“Brigsby Bear” is a film that even thinking about it can make me feel a twinge of a tear welling in my eye. This is a film with universal themes of lost innocence and the regaining of it through the strength of the human spirit. Mooney and Costello have crafted a wonderfully unique and beautifully touching story that I feel it to be impossible to dislike, unless only one wished for a weirder film than “Brigsby Bear” is. This is a film that knows exactly how to balance its many different attributes greatly without ever feel like it has drifted into excess by any means. This is a much more restrained movie than a debut from an SNL cast member might lead you to believe from precedent. Still, rather than fitting expectations, “Brigsby Bear” shatters the ceiling of what it means to be a comedy in this day and age, with a heart as big as the evil moon in the sky of Brigsby’s world.

4.5/5

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by: Dave McCary
Starring: Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Andy Samberg, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins.
Runtime: 100 minutes
Rating: PG013 for thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug material and teen partying.
Now playing exclusively at AMC Concord Mills and Carolina Pavilion.

Sony Pictures Classics, 3311 Productions and YL Pictures present, in association with Lord Miller and The Lonely Island, “Brigsby Bear”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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