After a tragic and bizarre turn of events, James’ life is no longer what it used to be, particularly when he learns that his cheesy childhood show–Brigsby Bear Adventures–has not only been abruptly cancelled, but also he is literally the only one who watched it. This forces James to interact with his new world; determined to share his adoration for the program that has become an integral part of his identity.
1 hour, 40 minutes
It will screen as part of the LA Film Festival on June 16, followed by a limited cinematic release from July 28 onwards.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Dave McCary
Writers: Kevin Costello, Kyle Mooney
Starring: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Claire Danes, Greg Kinnear, Andy Samberg
Composers: David Wingo
Genre: Drama, comedy, parody
Kyle Mooney, from Saturday Night Live, teams up with two of his childhood friends (Dave McCary and Kevin Costello) to finally craft this off-kilter comedy that has been ruminating at the back of his mind for the last few years. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, Brigsby Bear pleased critics and quickly appeared on various ‘must-see’ lists, before being nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic category. Being Dave McCary’s first feature film, Brigsby Bear was also eligible and subsequently nominated for the Golden Camera Award at Cannes.
Suffice to say, Brigsby Bear is fast becoming one of the most anticipated films to catch on the festival circuit, though with no official trailer, it still manages to hold a sense of mystery. Mark Hamill’s involvement with the movie, and the presence of a bear animatronic that’s oddly reminiscent of Freddy Fazbear, only deepens the audience’s curiosity towards this quirky story. I was privileged enough to view this film as part of the Sydney Film Festival, though does its reputation precede it?
Violence/Scary Images: Child abduction is present within the storyline, though it is more discussed as opposed to being depicted. Apart from some tackling, property crimes, a big explosion, and that one time James throws a rock at a gunner fox, there isn’t much in regards to violence.
Language/Crude Humor: C*ap and the s-word are uttered several times. There are a few jokes about masturbation and the touching of genitalia.
Spiritual Content: Prayer is depicted, though James appears to have his own unique religion, one that is only referenced, not fleshed out in the story.
Sexual Content: There is no nudity. A character briefly masturbates to a poster (not pornographic). Two characters attempt to have sex though their escapades fail. The topic of child molestation is mentioned.
Drug/Alcohol References: There is a major party scene where beer and drugs, such as marijuana, are consumed to excess. The teenage characters take drugs recreationally. Alcohol is consumed as a social activity.
Other Negative Content: James commits several petty crimes, though given his child-like innocent mindset, it’s forgiven albeit recognized as a destructive behavior. While the movie is self-aware in regards to the crimes it depicts, there is one it ignorantly ignores. There is a scene where it could be argued that a female sexually assaults a male, given that it’s unclear whether he has the capacity to give consent in that situation. Also, given that the ages of some of the characters aren’t specified, there are some unhealthy relationships in regards to what is allowed under U.S. law (although the film does intentionally hint at its inappropriateness, and once again provides a context where it may be forgiven).
Positive Content: Unlike Lars and the Real Girl, the community displayed in Brigsby Bear is not Christian, which sometimes causes James to walk down destructive pathways. However the friendship and level of acceptance James receives is one that’s very much loving in nature, and this is one of the few films that shows how a community can support and include those that are different.
I’ll be blunt. Out of the fifty or so cinematic releases I have watched this year, Brigsby Bear is one of the best thus far. It cannot be overstated as to how badly this storyline could have been portrayed. Yet despite this being his directorial debut, Dave McCary manages to hit the right tone; a task that many seasoned professionals manage to fail.
Due to a major twist at the end of the first act, I don’t wish to go into tremendous detail regarding the content of the plot. Indeed, the less you read, the better off you may be with this one. I knew about the twist going in, and I do feel robbed of the confusion and surprise when all was revealed, as though I could never appreciate the true level of quirkiness that Brigsby Bear delightfully delivers.
As fun as it appears to be, Brigsby Bear is a story grounded in tragedy. Yet McCary neither dwells on the extraordinarily heavy topics embedded into the storyline, nor does he completely brush them aside either. In many ways he parodies the serious nature of the scenes, though he never pushes the comedy so far for it to be considered insulting. The changes in tone are nothing short of masterful, with comedy, drama, pity, and that horribly wonderful feeling of awkwardness all perfectly blended with exceptional timing on screen. Lastly, it’s tarred with a lovable charm that oozes across all the frames of the film’s runtime.
Yet Brigsby Bear will be most remembered for its depiction of its protagonist: the serial geek, James. Utterly obsessed with the titular childhood show, Brigsby Bear Adventures, James is all too reminiscent of the negative geek stereotype of an underachieving man-child reveling in his parents’ basement. The beauty of this film is that it sets up a scenario where his obsession is completely understandable, and portrayed from an angle where there is no condescension. These plot developments free the audience and allow James to be viewed without the negativity that’s usually associated with those of his ilk.
Brigsby Bear is a love letter to all the geeks out there who dare to imagine that a television show or other piece of art was made specifically for them. It taps into our nostalgia; our adoration of the things that were important in our yesteryear, and what helped to shape the person we are today. The show within a show–Brigsby Bear Adventures–is reported to be a parody of the educational Christian programs that many may have watched growing up, though the movie never comes across as snarky or critical. The show is laughably low in quality, though it’s so dorky it’s charming, and James’ enthusiasm for it is nothing but contagious.
Indeed, this is a film where the development of a strong relationship between the main character and the audience is crucial for the story to succeed, and Brigsby Bear’s entire premise would fall flat if it weren’t for Kyle Mooney’s depiction of the lovable dork, James. It is thoroughly enjoyable to watch him in this role. His excitement feels genuine and relatable, and his child-like wonder and innocence is the cause for much of the movie’s comedic moments. Kyle Mooney nails the role and carries the film effortlessly.
Mark Hamill is also aptly cast, though his involvement definitely feels like a shout out to all the geeks out there that adore him. Yes, he has dialogue! Fans will also be pleased to learn that his voice over work also comes into play. However, like Claire Danes’ appearance, Hamill only plays a supporting character, one that only pops in for a few short scenes. Overall the acting is strong, with many of the characters balancing James’ flawed sense of stubbornness, though Andy Samberg’s role, while certainly amusing, feels random and underdeveloped.
Amusingly, a good portion of the script is unintelligible, and must be what it feels like to be a non-Game of Thrones follower after the latest episode has dropped. Brigsby Bear Adventures is filled with a hilarious amount of lore, and it would be interesting to actually read the script to see if what they say about the show is consistent and actually makes sense. I have no doubt that this film will create geeks of its own that will someday dedicate hours to breaking it all down.
What Brigsby Bear ultimately means to a viewer seems to be different for every individual depending on how they relate to James’ character. Some people may feel it’s a story about the healing power of art. Others might see the goodness that can arise from evil. The fallibility of creators and the worship of their creations harbor could also be commented upon. Personally I saw a story that demonstrates that loneliness isn’t necessarily related to how many people are physically present, but rather it occurs when there’s no freedom of expression–no one to share our joy or what’s important to us on a personal level.
On a related note, one criticism that I have is that while the community opens up to the possibility of seeing the world from James’ perspective, James doesn’t seem to return the favor. Completely obstinate, he doesn’t appear to realize the pain that he puts his parents through, whereas it would have been nice to at least have him acknowledge their struggles, despite having a difference of opinion. While James’ stubbornness and religious-like adoration is for the most part rather likable, towards the end of the second act it begins to wear thin and some of the jokes that were once surprising, soon become predictable. While it’s a sign of good, consistent characterization, thankfully McCary is mostly on point with his pacing, as an additional five minutes to the runtime may have caused Brigsby Bear to outstay its welcome.
Sadly, Brigsby Bear is an all-rounder, and while that’s normally a good trait, it means that it’s unlikely to pick up awards in any particular category. The film is strong in every department, though exceptional in none, so it will be beaten by other movies that have pooled more effort into one particular aspect. Critics and audiences alike will love it, but it doesn’t have the best acting, screenplay, direction, and so forth, even though it’s a highly cohesive piece of work. While it may not be necessary to catch this on the silver screen (although that explosion is something special), I do highly recommend that geeks of every persuasion watch this film at some stage.
+ Quirky tone
+ Multiple themes
+ Kyle Mooney's performance
+ Utterly charming
- The main character's personality flaws begin to wear thin.
- It doesn't address a particular crime.
- Andy Samberg feels shoehorned in.