Kyle Mooney is both the star and writer (along with Kevin Costello) of Brigsby Bear, the film which was featured at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is getting a good deal of buzz due to its creatively charming use of obviously very low budget visuals. Mooney plays James, a man who for reasons I won’t go into has had a very stunted development, and who is obsessed with a children’s show called “Brigsby Bear”, a show which teaches lessons from the alphabet and counting to advanced factorials, why you shouldn’t masturbate more than once a day, and how to respect the personal space of others. When James can suddenly no longer watch his beloved “Brigsby Bear” once a week, he takes it upon himself to write and film the show’s finale.
The first thing to say about Brigsby Bear is that it is utterly charming. This movie does not have a metaphorical mean bone in its entire metaphorical body. Even the subjects which could take on a very dark tone, of which there are quite a few, are handled with a light touch. The story could take on many dark and twisted turns to add drama and heft, but it wisely never goes down any of those roads giving us instead a wink letting us know the writers are fully aware they could have handed us a very dark film and purposefully decided not to.
The genre of Brigsby Bear defies description as it is a little comedy, a little drama, sort of a coming of age movie in which the person coming of age is already an adult, sort of a family drama, but the element the many different facets of Brigsby Bear have in common is that is always optimistic. No one is ever mean to anyone else in Brigsby Bear, even though you would think the subject matter is screaming out for someone to play the curmudgeon, and the only real conflict is in the people surrounding James disagreeing with each other how best to help James overcome his unusual past and join the rest of society. It’s a friendly world full of friendly people, and that on its own may be the most unusual and creative thing about Brigsby Bear.
That is also Brigsby Bear‘s greatest weakness. While it is highly unusual to see a film made up almost entirely of nice people doing nice things, that doesn’t make for gripping drama. The biggest conflicts to be seen here are the younger sister getting a little snitty that her brother is a weirdo and the psychiatrist insisting that James stop thinking about “Brigsby Bear”, even though we know that’s not going to happen. While it’s an interesting exercise to see a film that relies almost entirely on charm over tension, an hour and forty minutes is a long time for what is essentially a well written sit-com episode.
The cast of Brigsby Bear is an excellent mix of actors we haven’t seen around much in too long a time. Other than Kyle Mooney who is in nearly every scene of the film, we also have Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear as a police detective who left behind his dreams of being a theater actor a long time ago, Claire Danes as James’ psychiatrist, Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins as James’ parents, and even Andy Samberg poking his head in for what amounts to barely more than a cameo. All do an excellent job at making us like them and communicating the “Always follow your dreams” message of the movie, but none really have a lot of meat to work with in the script, truth be told. Again, everyone is great at being charming, but that’s all that is really asked of the cast.
Final verdict: Brigsby Bear with its seemingly endless supply of optimism and charm is a welcome diversion away from the standard Hollywood film, especially of late. However, its lack of any sort of real conflict makes for an experience which does nothing more than make us smile at just how damn cute it is. If you’re feeling especially down on people, Brigsby Bear may actually go a long way toward helping you out of that funk, and I expect that is largely the point of the film. But, know that the only real adventure to be found here, is the adventure of seeing normal daily life from an unusual perspective. Brigsby Bear does get a recommendation from me primarily because so many of us need some restoration of faith in humanity right now, but don’t expect this movie to be remembered long after it leaves theaters, it has the spark of creativity, but not the spark of greatness, unfortunately.