Brigsby Bear Review
By Rich Cline
Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores the experiences of a young man rescued after years in captivity. The darker emotions are here, but that’s not the focus of this film, which instead playfully keeps the audience laughing as it cleverly weaves a tale that will resonate in unexpected ways. And the fanboy-style premise makes it wonderfully timely.
This is the story of 25-year-old James (played by cowriter Kyle Mooney), who was kidnapped as an infant and raised in a bunker by Ted and April (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams), who claimed to be his parents and told him the air outside was unbreathable. Over the years, he gets his education from weekly videotape episodes of the children’s show Brigsby Bear, made by Ted specifically for him. Then when he’s rescued and reunited with his real parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins), they’re strangers to him. As is his spiky little sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins). To make sense of this big new world, he gets help from a cop (Greg Kinnear) and a therapist (Claire Danes). But he longs to revisit Brigsby’s world. So when Aubrey’s friend Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg) shows interest in the furry character, James launches an epic plan to make a movie to bring the TV series to a conclusion.
Obviously, all of this is working as a kind of rehabilitation for James, and the film is smartly assembled to bring the audience into his quirky perspective. We’ve seen an episode of Brigsby, so we understand how it has charmed him with its nutty sci-fi superhero action. And it’s hilarious to see James thrown into our world when his only cultural references relate to Brigsby. Meanwhile, Mooney underscores James’ obsession with a bright sense of curiosity that’s infectious both for the other characters in the story and for us watching it.
All of these people are superbly fleshed-out by the actors, with the standout being Kinnear, a cocky detective with acting ambitions. And the casting of Hamill is a stroke of genius. Each person is so richly detailed that we wouldn’t mind seeing another movie about them. Every scene is packed with witty touches that are both funny and meaningful. And the story’s message is powerful without ever being pushy, as everyone discovers that they need to stop forcing James to react in the expected ways. They want him to be the person he should have been all along, but now they need to embrace the person he actually is.
Facts and Figures
Production compaines: Sony Pictures Classics, 3311 Productions, Lord Miller, Kablamo!
Cast & Crew
Starring: Kyle Mooney as James Pope, Claire Danes as Clare, Mark Hamill as Ted, Greg Kinnear as Detective Vogel, Andy Samberg as Eric, Matt Walsh as Greg Pope, Michaela Watkins as Louise Pope, Chance Crimin as Logan, Ryan Simpkins as Aubrey Pope, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Spencer, Beck Bennett as Detective Bander, Alexa Demie as Meredith, Kate Lyn Sheil as Arielle Smiles, Kiera Milan Hendricks as Young Smiles Sisters, Jane Adams as April, Tim Heidecker as Actor in film, Nick Rutherford as Brigsby Bear fan