17th Oct2017

LFF 2017: ‘Brigsby Bear’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Review by Matthew Turner

Stars: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Jane Adams, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Alexa Demie, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Claire Danes, Chance Crimin, Beck Bennett, Andy Samberg | Written by Kevin Costello, Kyle Mooney | Directed by Dave McCary


Saturday Night Live alumnus Dave McCary makes his directorial debut with Brigsby Bear, an engaging and smartly judged indie comedy-drama that mixes elements from several different movies but still manages to feel entirely original.

SNL’s Kyle Mooney (who co-wrote the script with Kevin Costello) plays twenty-five year-old James, who grows up in an underground desert bunker with his “parents” Ted (Mark Hamil) and April (Jane Adams). Kyle’s only entertainment is Brigsby Bear, a children’s fantasy TV show about a talking bear who protects the universe and dispenses weekly life lessons like “curiosity is an unnatural emotion” and “trust only the family unit”.

When the FBI raid the bunker, James is informed that Ted and April abducted him when he was a baby, before being reunited with his real parents, Louise and Greg (Michaela Watkins and Matt Walsh). That’s understandably a lot to take in, but James is even more devastated to learn that Brigsby Bear was created by Ted especially for him, so there are no new episodes. However, after a revelatory trip to the cinema, James decides to make a Brigsby movie and finish the story himself.

The inventive script plays with a number of different themes and ideas, such as the powerful impact of pop culture, the way that childhood TV shows burn their way into our collective psyche and the way the creative instinct can be used to make sense of the world around us. It’s also alive to both the pleasures and the dangers of nostalgia, acknowledging the comforts of wallowing in the past, while noting the difficulty of moving forward while doing so. (As an added bonus, it brilliantly captures that uniquely nerdy frustrating of trying to discuss a TV show that no-one else has seen).

On one level, Brigsby Bear feels distinctly familiar, combining elements from a wide range of different movies, including Be Kind Rewind, Lars and the Real Girl, The Truman Show, Happiness, Napoleon Dynamite, Room, Dogtooth and even Gentlemen Broncos, as well as the TV show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. However, under McCary’s direction, none of those elements feel forced, or dropped in as clever-clever references – instead, the story feels genuinely original.

Mooney pitches his performance perfectly as James, making him simultaneously heart-breaking, sweetly naïve and occasionally infuriating. In addition, there’s strong support from Ryan Simpkins as James’ teenage younger sister Aubrey, while Hamil elicits touching sympathy for Ted and Greg Kinnear is very funny as a cop who discovers his inner actor after being roped into James’ movie.

It’s easy to see how Brigsby Bear could have tipped into broader comedy or mawkish sentimentality, but thankfully McCary gets the tone exactly right, maintaining a bittersweet note throughout that’s surprisingly moving. It’s also frequently laugh-out-loud funny, particularly in the middle section, which plays out like a distinctly off-beat coming-of-age story.

Combining likeable characters, inventive ideas and a strong central message, Brigsby Bear is a brilliantly directed and superbly acted indie comedy that has the potential to become a cult classic in its own right.

**** 4/5


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