‘Brigsby Bear’ does not hibernate during its light, bizarre trip
Directed by: Dave McCary
Written by: Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello
Starring: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Jane Adams, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Michaela Watkins, and Matt Walsh
“Brigsby Bear” – “We have dreams and imaginations to help us escape, and no one can take that away from you, ever.” – Ted (Mark Hamill)
Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello certainly possess vivid imaginations, because they penned “Brigsby Bear”, a most original and oddball story that follows James Pope’s (Mooney) odyssey in attempting to fit into society, whether he wants to or not.
You see – for reasons that I will not disclose in this review - James spent the first 20 plus years of his life obsessed with a kids’ television show called “Brigsby Bear”. Even though he has reached and blown past the voting age, James owns a Brigsby Bear bedspread, lamp, posters, and all 736 episodes of his favorite TV program. Let’s face it, “Brigsby Bear” is the only program that matters to James, and his entire world – from sunup to sundown – revolves around it.
Brigsby is the main protagonist on this program which resembles a 1970s Sid and Marty Krofft production. For those not familiar with Sid and Marty’s work, they created several live-action, Saturday morning kids shows – like “H.R. Pufnstuf”, “The Bugaloos” and “The Lost Saucer” - which featured a few human characters interacting with others dressed as sea monsters, aliens and insects, to a name a few types of eccentric costars. Despite limited budgets, clunky scripts (that introduce and wrap up a random, trivial issue in 22 minutes) and embarrassing special effects, their programs were quite popular in the preteen universe at the time. Looking back, one can only speculate on the vast quantities of drugs that were consumed during those creative writing sessions from almost a half century ago.
If you remember those towering, 22-minute blocks of confectionary nonsense, you might find yourself in the grips of an acid flashback when watching “Brigsby Bear”, as the film dabbles in various clips of our furry friend (while always donning his trademark blue t-shirt) learning various lessons and dueling with the series main antagonist, Sun Snatcher. Regardless how it sounds, director Dave McCary’s film – rated PG-13 – is not a kids’ movie, but James’ journey does stir some sweet moments, as well as hilarious and head scratching ones.
Sporting a mop of disheveled, curly hair and out-of-fashion glasses, James channels his inner Hanson brother (from “Slap Shot” (1977)), minus the hockey abilities or propensity for sudden violence, of course. He is a gentle soul thrust into 2017 suburbia without many clues on how the big world works, but it initially aims to decouple his Brigsby obsession from his DNA.
Without giving away the movie’s secrets, many supporting characters – played by Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Greg Kinnear, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. – wish James well on his voyage towards conformity, but the cinematic tension arises when some reject his Brigsby-love, while others support it. Still, the conflict never really reaches a fierce boiling point, so even those who roll their eyes or verbally snap during any talk of Brigsby do not wish James ill will. Generally speaking, his new environment treats him with a gentle hand to match his personality, and hence Costello and Mooney’s creation becomes a light, bizarre trip rather than an unpalatable one.
Admittedly, it is difficult to comprehend the attraction to this wacky television show, even though a given number of on-screen characters do embrace it. I don’t know how many moviegoers will clamor for a Brigsby Bear lamp or trading cards in the near or distant future, but I suspect that many will appreciate this highly original film, as Mooney, Costello and McCary’s thoughtful dreams and imaginations play out on the big screen.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively