Movie Review: ‘Brigsby Bear’


Director: Dave McCary

Cast: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Claire Danes

Plot: James lives in an underground bunker with his parents, protected from the toxic gasses outside. He spends his day watching children’s show ‘Brigsby Bear’ and discussing its continuity online. Then the police arrive and reveal the truth about James’ life.

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Review: Don’t panic, that’s not a spoiler. It’s the basic plot. The first act ends with James (Mooney) learning that the world he knows is a lie, and he’s been raised by kidnappers (Hamill and Jane Adams). As part of the elaborate fiction James has lived through his fake parents have filmed hundreds of episodes of an early 80s educational program about an adventurous bear named Brigsby and the Smile Twins as they battle against an sun deity (also Hamill). This show teaches James about maths and positive values while discouraging curiosity.

Why James has been kept trapped is almost incidental, the real crux of the story is that James has been protected from the world at large and is emotionally still a child. Upon being rescued and returned to his family, who are now strangers, James struggles to fit in. He tries to find sanctuary in ‘Brigsby Bear’ but is distressed to learn that there will be no more new episodes. James resolves to make a film to conclude Brigsby’s adventures.

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There’s plenty to discuss here on the subject of pop culture. Brigsby Bear presents us with a character whose entire outlook on the world has been shaped by single media text. This a non-hostile commentary on how much of our world view is shaped by the entertainment we consume, simply narrowed down to a single program instead of a wide spectrum. James is naive not because of any disfunction but because of his very limited range of influences. Upon entering the real world James is overwhelmed by the scope of this new society and is left confused by the way people interact and what they consider normal behaviour. 

Ultimately Brigsby Bear seeks to promote creativity, encouraging the audience to develop their simple ideas and their passions. It’s not what ‘Brigsby Bear’ is that begins drawing people towards it, it’s James’ passion for it inspires others to watch it and love it as he does. It’s his devotion to fulfilling his dream that leads to those around him pulling together to help him complete his goal.

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Brigsby Bear draws on some simple, familial themes. The importance of friends and family, the importance of creativity and dedication, there’s little that we haven’t seen before. What makes Brigsby Bear feel unique is the style and tone. Everything to do with the fictional show within a movie, from the film stock to the merchandise, is carefully designed to tap into 80s nostalgia. It’ll tickle audiences of the right age. The film itself is a heartfelt endeavour. McCary and Mooney have been working together for a long time and they’re very committed to their concept. It’s nice to see such a unique creative vision being backed by names like Samberg, Lord and Miller.

A colourful feel-good flick with a unique group of oddball characters.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN

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