Genre: Comedy, Drama, Dramedy.
Starring: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Claire Danes, Beck Beckett, Andy Samberg.
Year Of Release: 2017
Certificate: 15 (UK)
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Director: Dave McCary
Writer(s): Kyle Mooney & Kevin Costello
Synopsis: “Brigsby Bear Adventures is a children’s TV show produced for an audience of one: James. When the show abruptly ends, James’s life changes forever, and he sets out to finish the story himself.” IMDB
A fair warning: Brigsby Bear is not the film you think it is. When the film’s title flashed up at my screening (the highly-recommended Screen Unseen from Odeon, which surprises you with a preview screening roughly once a month, but conceals the identity of the film in question until the moment the lights dim), I sighed and rolled my eyes. I knew little about it but recalled an unimpressive trailer I’d seen a few months prior. I sighed disappointedly; ‘this will be a wasted evening’, I resigned myself to. The film made a few ripples at Sundance Film Festival but faded from the spotlight somewhat, making a return for its UK release date this December, almost a year after its debut.
We’ll keep plot details at a minimum, as this is a film best enjoyed blindly: after his favourite television show, Brigsby Bear, comes to a surprising end, a guileless young man called James wants one more outing with his favourite character. He decides to shoot his own movie, to help him face the reality of his new world without Brigsby. Co-written with friend Kevin Costello, Kyle Mooney stars as James Pope; the supporting cast features the likes of Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, and Greg Kinnear. Marking his feature-length directorial debut, Dave McCary helms this difficult-to-categories picture with such confidence and aplomb.
I was so wrong to judge this film so early on.
Brigsby Bear is oozing with sincerity and warmth, making for a wholesome cinematic experience that will fill your heart with a fair share of happiness and just a tinge of sadness for balance. It’s a very pleasant surprise: a picture of hope and new beginnings, a refreshing new angle on the coming-of-age genre. Mooney and Costello’s script successfully morphs the light-hearted, comedic joy of the piece with the darker, more serious undertones, providing a surprising amount of depth and poignancy. David Wingo’s lovely soundtrack enhances every emotion superbly, one you will be able to appreciate outside the feature-length too.
It subtly explores the impact of pop culture on millennials and the streaming generation; the world and its eccentricities through the eyes of a naive soul; mental health in a delicate but frank way; learning to understand, yourself and others, in a sophisticated manner that avoids stealing from countless other attempts at the sub-genre. Brigsby Bear’s script requires so much skill to find these tricky place without it seeming patronising – but Mooney and Costello achieve it with a tremendous amount of skill and confidence.
All of this is brought to life magnificently by Mooney’s sensational performance: one that deserves awards but may have slipped too far under the radar to receive its plaudits. In a career-defining performance, Mooney plays James’ bewilderment with his situation and a new-found world with attentiveness and poise; we see him discovering and learning and adapting, growing and developing where he could have collapsed and surrendered. It could have so easily become a grating role, but Mooney injects a quirkiness and lovability that makes James so endearing. He is credulous, untainted and captivating, a simple pleasure to watch.
A supporting cast padded out with a talent of all varieties, the entire ensemble is tremendous here. Claire Danes makes a fleeting appearance and it’s lovely to see her gravitate from television, as terrific as she is in Homeland; Mark Hamill tackles a difficult role but he finds the right angle to play it from; and Greg Kinnear delivers an often side-splitting turn as a Detective with a fancy for theatre.
In Conclusion: Brigsby Bear
Considering this is McCary’s feature-length debut, he has all the confidence of a director working for many years. It’s not particularly flashy and he doesn’t chase unfulfilled set pieces; he focuses largely on the so-very-easy-to-love character of James and the new world he is discovering instead, to great effect. Pulling the camera tight to showcase emotion and naivety and sending it wide to show James’ exploration; he infuses the real world with James’ fantasy one stunningly, marrying the two in one magical, moving project. It ends on a beautiful, touching shot that could not help but bring a tear to my eye. Encapsulated by the purposely-cheesy graphics, Brigsby Bear is so lovingly-made and delicately produced; it is impossible not to fall in love with it.
Don’t make the same mistake that I did and judge a book by its cover. Brigsby Bear really is the year’s most surprising cinematic experience and I will race back to experience it again upon wide release. It is a tender, warm and magical picture; in fact, it’s as dope as shit.