Brigsby Bear

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Kyle Mooney in Brigsby Bear - 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.
"Saturday Night Live regular Mooney, who has a twinkly mischievousness and comic timing reminiscent of a young Gene Wilder, plays James as naive, but never stupid."

Editor's note: It is almost impossible to talk in depth about Brigsby Bear without slight spoilers - albeit a situation that is revealed early in the film. Those who don't want to know anything about that, should proceed with caution

Roll up! Roll up! For the Brigsby Bear balancing act, in which, against cinematic death defying odds, Dave McCary manages to turn the sort of abduction-and-return story we recently saw in Room into a tragicomedy while also managing to juggle amateur filmmaking/'sweding' and coming-of-age without falling into the pit of unwatchable whimsy or the pool of schmaltz.

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If this was a circus act, Barnum would book it immediately, especially as McCary pulls of that trickiest of all feats - making it seem effortless. James (Kyle Mooney) would definitely be one of the first to buy a ticket. The 25-year-old has loved Brigsby his entire life, waiting eagerly for each new episode about the furry character trying to save the universe from Suncatcher with the help of the Smile Sisters, while dishing out maths equations, and warning him not to touch his penis more than twice a day. It's the brightest spot in his otherwise mundane existence with his mum April (Jane Adams) and dad Ted (Mark Hamill), living in a dome-like building and forbidden to go outside because the air is toxic, his only contact with others via a computer fan forum, about Brigsby, of course.

The fact that we are sucked, initially, into what appears to be a near-future world, is a deft way of illustrating how easy it is to 'believe' what we see on screen and of giving us an insight into how James feels when the police arrive and he discovers this has all been an elaborate lie, cooked up just for him by April and Ted, who snatched him as a child. Worst of all, kindly detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear), who finds him, reveals James is the only person in the world who has seen his father's specially concocted (and knocked off from elsewhere) Brigsby Bear. We feel the betrayal with him and are immediately in his head and on his side as he is thrust back into the real world, he finds himself living with the complete strangers that are his birth parents (Michaela Watkins, Matt Walsh) and younger sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), a high-school teen who offers him a chilly reception.

James isn't just another movie manchild, however - in fact, we are never invited to 'mock' any of the characters here. The situations they find themselves are often funny but Mooney, who also wrote the script with Kevin Costello, treats them gently and with respect. James isn't an idiot, he's just, in effect, suffering from an extreme form of alienation and all but the most self-assured viewers are likely to see aspects of themselves in the way he approaches his first party invitation or tries to tentatively make friends with Aubrey and her pals Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) and Meredith (Alexie Demi). Viewers who consider themselves 'geeks' about anything will also find a kindred spirit in James' love of Brigsby - an aspect emphasised in the film by the way that he and Spencer quickly form a bond over the bear, despite the younger boy never having come across him before.

James decides he wants to make one final Brigsby Bear movie showdown with Suncatcher and his new friends - including thwarted actor Vogel - are soon enlisted to help. This helps the film to broaden out into a celebration of creativity and of that particularly wild part of imagination that often gets left behind when we hit puberty. There is an underlying melancholy regarding the loss of innocence as James finds himself on fast-forward to adulthood, which adds depth to the comedy. This careful handling extends to the movie James is making, which is is not-too-good but not-too-bad either, achieving a similar level of charm to the film within a film aspect of Son Of Rambow.

Saturday Night Live regular Mooney, who has a twinkly mischievousness and comic timing reminiscent of a young Gene Wilder, plays James as naive, but never stupid. Sure, his character may not have the hip terminology, but he does have a way of seeing things that offers something to those around him too, such as when he tells one of his new-found friends, "It's very sad you didn't get to do what was important to you".

The end result is, as James would no doubt say, "Dope as shit" but always respects our intelligence.

Reviewed on: 10 Sep 2017
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Brigsby Bear packshot
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.

Director: Dave McCary

Writer: Kevin Costello, Kevin Costello, Kyle Mooney, Kyle Mooney

Starring: Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins

Year: 2017

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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