For the sake of maintaining the integrity of the Brigsby Bear story (penned by Kevin Costello and star Kyle Mooney) it is difficult to go into a review without a spoiler alert. This is namely because there is a story twist inherent in the premise of the film.
Given that marketing of the movie has not been too widespread, I think it is best to throw out a spoiler warning just to be safe, even though this review will only get into a basic summary of the film’s premise.
James Pope (Mooney) is obsessed with a children’s educational show starring a magical bear named Brigsby. He has copies of all of the episodes on VHS and makes vlogs on an online fan forum about cracking the code of the show.
Only, James Pope is the only person who has seen Brigsby Bear. There is no online forum. For James, there isn’t even an outside world. Instead, he lives with his parents in an underground bunker.
Except, Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams) are not James Pope’s parents. They are two one-time children’s entertainment creators who stole a baby and raised him underground using tapes of a television show that they created.
James Pope, easily in his mid to late twenties, is rescued from this isolated existence by Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) and the FBI. Now, he must adjust to a world he has never seen. And a world that has never seen Brigsby Bear.
Think Room if Jacob Tremblay was an awkward hipster.
Sometimes, Brigsby Bear feels like just what this logline infers: too self-reflexive for its own good, too ready to point itself out for being different, especially at the very end.
But other times, the film’s reflexivity is perfectly calculated. In one early scene, James speaks with his “parents” about Brigsby Bear, and it seems as if the parents are going to call him out on his obsession with the show. Instead, the impeccably-timed misdirection that we get from Hamill and Adams is the first truly transcendent moment of the film.
As the film moves further down the road from this great opening, it loses some of its initial charm (again, the ending is too on the nose for what this film is putting forth). But this inventive premise does enough on its own to prop the film up.
This premise is held counter-weight by conventions of the fish out of water and coming of age narratives. While this can become tiresome, it fits naturally with James’ story in a manner that is forgivable.
There are some strong performances in the film. Comedians Mooney, Matt Walsh, and Michaela Watkins translate into a less overtly comedic project well. But it is Hamill, only appearing in a few brief scenes, who steals the show.
Brigsby Bear is absurd and funny, sweet and earnest, and endlessly riding an undercurrent wave of darkness. Somehow, it controls these tones to create a film that is often hilarious, sometimes inspiring, and, if only rarely, sublime. It is a fascinating experiment in tonal control.
Brigsby Bear: B+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)