Review: Brigsby Bear overcomes cynicism to win the day!

brigsby bear

This will probably be the most light-hearted film about child abduction you’ll ever see. Brigsby Bear is like if Room (the Brie Larson one, not the Tommy Wiseau one), Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth and the non-alien parts of Super 8 had some kind awkward, good-natured love child.

Synopsis: “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.”

James (Kyle Mooney) was abducted as a kid and brainwashed into believing that the outside world’s atmosphere is poisoned. He’s stuck in this underground bunker and watches Brigsby Bear – a show made by his dad specifically for him. A lot of filmmakers would dwell on the more traumatic aspects of this kind of story but Dave McCary (director) subverts your expectations by focusing on James’ life after he’s exposed to the outside (non-bunker) world. and his fixation on finishing the story of Brigsby Bear.

kyle mooney in brigsby bear

That fixation becomes the focal point for James’ acclimation to life outside the bunker and draws in a cadre of friends who genuinely want to help him (probably the most surprising part of the film). In these kinds of post-abduction films, the audience expects characters to be off-put or somehow predatory towards newly famous characters like James. Brigsby Bear instead surrounds its lead character with warm, affectionate, good-natured people who just want to make a movie and have fun. Not to give too much away, but usually in these kinds of films you’re constantly on edge waiting for the next terrible thing to happen to the main character. The director plays on that convention by putting James in the most vulnerable positions imaginable and letting the audience squirm at the potentially dark outcomes (but always going another route)

A lot of this is reflected in how Kyle Mooney portrays James. His characterization never comes across as pitiful or weak. When you see him on screen there’s an affable innocence to the way he single-mindedly fixates on making the Brigsby Bear movie that is understandably infections to the rest of the characters (be they stand-offish sister, police detective or just a kid who wants to make cool movies). There is absolutely no cynicism in anyone’s portrayal and that helps defuse the tension of many scenes, allowing the audience to laugh at what would otherwise be too dramatically heavy to appreciate.

brigsby bear

Brigsby Bear reflects the warm, optimism of the today’s youth (in contrast to the soaked-in-irony older gens). Everyone is endearing and helpful, which lets the audience fall into lock-step with James’ attempt to make his movie. We want to be right there next to him making props for a scene or playing a background extra – all to make some movie that probably only friends and family will see. The stakes don’t need to be world-endingly-high because when you’re that invested in a such a likable character, you’re able to appreciate how seemingly inconsequential hurdles feel like the most monumentous journeys.

Brigsby Bear is one of the few films that could accurately be labeled “the feel-good movie of the summer” or “an inspirational journey” or whatever it is people say. You walk in expecting something sad or depressing and you walk out ready to take on the world (by “world,” we mean whatever creative project is occupying your headspace right now).

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