The difficulty of writing about a movie like Brigsby Bear comes from the spoilery nature of its very premise. The trailer advertises a very different movie than the final product, but does so in a way that is true to its tone. Basically, if you’re picking up what the trailer is putting down, you won’t feel cheated even if you don’t get the movie you’re expecting. However, there is simply no way to speak about the film without dipping into a minor spoiler. I promise you it is no big deal, especially given that the ‘reveal’ I speak of occurs within the first few minutes of the film. The only reason I feel even the slightest inclination to preserve it is because the filmmakers seem to have intentionally left specific details of the film’s plot outside of the promotional material.
So for anyone who wants to go in completely without knowledge, here’s a small review:
You will enjoy Brigsby Bear and when it ends you will want to go out and create something wonderful of your own. It’s very good and it comments on fandom and creativity with humor and sweetness. Mark Hamill is very good in it.
There’s your warning.
Brigsby Bear, the TV show within this movie, is a sort of sci-fi Teddy Ruxpin. James Pope (Kyle Mooney), an oddball man-child, eagerly awaits next to his Rube Goldbergian mailbox for the latest episode to arrive. His collection of Brigsby Bear tapes (yes, tapes) is massive, but it is dwarfed by his collection of Brigsby Bear swag. He has everything a fanboy could dream of, and spends his spare time obsessing over every aspect of the Brigsby Bear universe. A Brigsby Bear fanboy is not that different from a real-world fanboy. James makes videos of his observations an analyses. He wears clothing emblazoned with his favorite character. He even spends alone time with a poster of Arielle Smiles, one half of the Brigsby Bear’s Smile Sisters. James lives and breathes Brigsby Bear, because at this point in his life it’s all he knows. Because he’s never been outside. Because he’s not allowed to leave the house.
And then the cops show up.
He then finds out that his parents are not actually his parents, but really two kidnappers who nabbed him as a baby and have been raising him in secret ever since. Furthermore, Brigsby Bear is not a real show. Nope, Dad (Mark Hamill, KILLING IT) has been writing/directing/producing the show solely for James. Nobody else on the planet has seen it. Nobody has heard of it. Functionally, it doesn’t exist.
James is returned to his biological family, and as he learns the truth of his existence, his love for Brigsby Bear remains unshaken.
In using a cryptic ad campaign which is undercut almost immediately after the film opens, Mooney and Dave McCrary (co-writer/director) have cleverly found a way to buck expectations by eliminating the chance for any to be formed. It’s a sly move that almost feels cheap given how bound to convention a fair amount of the film feels (let’s just say that it seems typical for ‘off-beat family’ comedies about damaged people” to feature Greg Kinnear learning to be a kid again). Even so, it’s easy to forget the samey parts when you’re lost in a sea of inspired weirdness, and genuine warmth.
Perhaps that’s why this film, which could have been weird for weird’s sake — or worse yet, not weird at all — ends up transcending any potential stylistic box it could be placed in. The tenderness this film shows toward creativity-at-the-expense-of-normalcy is really cool. When James’ naivety becomes humorous, the joke never seems to be at his expense, nor at the expense of the thematic work. For a movie that features imagery like Mark Hamill as the face of an evil talking sun, it never errs on the side of goofiness. This is a tenuous line to walk when doing comedy and Brigsby Bear maintains it for the duration.
More and more I’m seeing movies where the villains are not framed as such (Okja is perhaps my favorite 2017 example), and it all comes down to proper motivation. James’ “old parents” are not necessarily evil so much as they are misguided. His “new parents” may be resistant to his Brigsby Bear obsession (it might even be the biggest antagonistic force in the film) but it makes sense. It’s a narrative hurdle to clear, but it’s not wrong. Showing how despicable behaviors aren’t always indicative of a despicable person is used here to explore darker territory than any viewer could reasonably expect, and it’s ultimately the film’s greatest strength.
It takes a lot for a movie to spark a creative flame within somebody, but I suspect Brigsby Bear will do it for a lot of people simply by reminding them how good it feels.
AND MARK HAMILL PLAYS THE FACE OF A TALKING SUN AND YOU SHOULD NEVER NOT SEE THAT.
Brigsby Bear opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.