What is a Brigsby Bear? That is the question many people have been asking since the release of its oddly-charming trailer and appearance at San Diego Comic Con. Brigbsy Bear is a radiant coming-of-age story that has been making waves on the independent film circuit, quickly earning a reputation as one of the most positive and endearing films of 2017. David McCary enlists fellow Good Neighbor/Saturday Night Live comedian Kyle Mooney to write and star in his directorial debut, telling a somewhat familiar story filled to the brim with passion and creativity. Brigsby Bear follows James, who has lived his entire life in a bunker with his parents who have created a TV show, “Brigsby Bear Adventures,” through which James learns about the world. After James is rescued and discovers his “parents” actually abducted him at birth, he is brought in by his real family to experience the real world. Kyle Mooney gives an awards-caliber performance as James, expertly mixing dramatic chops and comedic timing to bring one of the most pure characters of 2017 to life.
Brigsby Bear opens up as audiences are introduced to James and his world, focusing on his abductive dad, played by the always wonderful Mark Hamill, wherein we learn about James’ obsession with Brigsby Bear. This movie is very much an ode to fandoms, which makes since seeing as Mooney and McCary come from YouTube backgrounds. James is so pure in his love for Brigsby Bear, which sets the tone for his character throughout the film. The point at which Mooney’s character is rescued by police and enters the real world is where this story separates itself from the countless Lifetime movies that this might sound like. James isn’t scarred or upset by what has happened to him. All he is concerned with is who has the next episode of Brigsby Bear. When James begins to realize that his beloved show isn’t going to go on, he sets out to finish the story himself, making new friends along the way. This film is very simple and has simple values. Rather than focusing on the macabre nature of someone being kidnapped and brainwashed through a TV show, Brigsby Bear uses positivity and comedy to offset the dark nature of the situation, rarely letting a smile leave your face.
There aren’t many things I didn’t like about this movie, so I’ll get my one big negative out of the way. I have already mentioned it a few times, but this movie does feel a little too familiar at times. The film’s basic beats mirror most liberated kidnapping movie or “cast away from society” flicks, but it is very easy to get past this when you are swept away by the characters and emotions of this film. However, perhaps what makes Brigsby Bear such a good movie is its ability to overcome these similarities and stand on its own. Even though I was seeing shades of films I’ve seen before, I never forgot what I was watching. Brigsby Bear has its own distinct personality and a big part of that is rooted in Kyle Mooney, both on and off screen. Mooney’s script, co-written with Kevin Costello, strikes a balance of tone that was almost too perfect. Oftentimes during my showing, people weren’t sure if they were allowed to laugh. This is where the film truly shines. Intimate moments would often contain some very funny dialogue, which threw some people off but was very intentional and would not have worked without Mooney’s impeccable delivery. This can also be chalked up to Mooney’s rapport with McCary, whose vision was executed to perfection.
Not only does Brigsby Bear succeed on an emotional level, it is also very technically sound. Though not meant to blow you away with technical brilliance, the camera work on display here is very good. The somber, yet uplifting piano score was highly effective as well, matching the overall tone of the film. The supporting cast is very good, with Greg Kinnear and Jorge Lendeborg Jr, in particular, as Detective Vogel & Spencer standing out as highlights. The character of Spence takes a path throughout the story that greatly surprised and pleased me from a creative standpoint. This film usurps expectations often, taking familiar tropes from past dramedies in a new direction. It never felt like it was outright trying to do this either, making Brigsby Bear easily one of the most endearing features you’ll see this year. Even though it isn’t the most original movie we have seen, Brigsby Bear manages to get you to invest in its lead character who is relentlessly upbeat even throughout a terrible situation, which will go further than any cool premise ever will. This movie is so genuine that it almost makes you feel guilty for nitpicking problems. Ignoring the story, being invested in Mooney makes up for the plot’s lack of depth at times. Much like Wonder Woman from earlier this year, the character of James is too pure for this world and we must protect him. This film and character deserve all the love and recognition.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wish Brigsby Bear went a bit deeper at times. There were ideas that could have been explored such as James’ relationship with his sister Aubrey or deeper themes that could have been delved into. However, I am ok with this all because this fantastic movie moved me. McCary and company deliver a film that gets you to ignore the circumstances and focus on character, really following along a touching journey. Through James, audiences are reassured that, no matter how bad things get, if you have a guiding light, whether it be a superhero or TV show character, you can find solace. Brigsby Bear is a testament that positivity and passion can go a long way, which spoke to me as a creator. I left the film inspired to simplify the way I look at the world and live more joyously. If you’re someone who goes to the movies to feel something and be moved, Brigsby Bear is the film for you. Go see it with family and friends. Dave McCary and Kyle Mooney have crafted a beautifully triumphant movie that deserves to be seen. Perhaps we’ll be seeing it again as awards season is quickly approaching.
DeVaughn’s Score: 9/10