By: Kelly FitzGerald
Yet another great Sundance film, Brigsby Bear tells the story of a 25-year-old man-child after learning that his favorite childhood TV show, Brigsby Bear Adventures, is over. Revealing the cause of this would give away a major plot point, so you’ll have to see it to find out.
Purchased at this year’s festival by Sony (read more here), Brigsby Bear is a Drama-Comedy co-written by and starring Kyle Mooney. Peppered with SNL alumni—Andy Samberg, Michaela Watkins, Dave McCary, and, of course, Mooney himself—this Sundance hit offered a breath of fresh air from the emotionally taxing films that saturated this year’s screens (see Plastic China and In loco parentis).
Though absent of the social and artistic profundity you might expect from a Sundance selection, Brigsby Bear transports viewers to the yonder years of humble entertainment. Classically shot and edited, director Dave McCary employs a highly conventional filmmaking style that begs for a home in mainstream cinema. What distinguishes this film is its comedic quirkiness, which Kevin Costello and Mooney cleverly wove into the plot, writing, and acting.
The film opens in James’ (Mooney’s) bedroom, sodden with Brigsby Bear paraphernalia. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with Brigsby VHS tapes, posters of the twin ‘Smile Sisters’ are plastered everywhere, and even James’ bedding and T-shirts feature the bear’s head. When unwillingly torn from his comfort zone and tossed into a new lifestyle—excluding the life-sized man-bear—James learns that he was the only one to ever watch the series. But what about the Brigsby Bear ‘fans’ he web-chatted with? They were false personas, feeding into a life-long lie. James is then forced to receive psychological counseling for his attachment issues, somewhat mocking our societal obsession with curing behavior that is deemed ‘abnormal.’ Because of this process, the once-warm and happy James becomes sad and unmotivated, having been detached from the one thing that has been constant in his life. An ode to crazy, quirky, off-beat human beings, Mooney and Costello shed light on the harmlessness of simply being ‘weird’ as the audience is positioned to sympathize with James.
Unyielding to psychiatric advice and ridicule, James decides to finish the Brigsby Bear series himself, refusing to part with it. His contagious enthusiasm and passion enlists the help of others, and soon enough he is no longer an audience of one. His documented adventures in making the film are reminiscent of a traditional coming of age narrative, as he naïvely learns about sex, drugs, and crime—things he could only learn through experience.
The best part? The film highlights the voice talents of Mark Hamill. At the Q&A following the screening I attended, Hamill jokingly added that he was thrilled because, “I had lines!” No harsh feelings there–and certainly not the only Star Wars reference made.