A man kept in captivity his whole life tries to reconstruct the sci-fi series his captors used to keep him pacified.
Directed by Dave McCary
Starring Kyle Mooney and Mark Hamill
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
The inability to take the crime at the center of Brigsby Bear seriously is inescapable when watching this film. It’s not like McCary and Mooney and co-writer Kevin Costello don’t acknowledge how insidious the program is, with its sign-off lessons and story morals dedicated to keeping James narcotized in captivity. Walsh’s Greg knows what the program was for, and is deeply uncomfortable with it remaining a force in his son’s life, but this discomfort is put aside and he helps James finish his film. Hamill’s Ted even does the voices from jail. The film ends with James receiving a standing ovation, so the takeaway is that this is going to continue. It’s good for a film to be non-judgmental of its characters, but there has to be some acknowledgement at the same time.
If I take a stance of utmost charity towards Brigsby Bear, there might be some kind of commentary about fan culture in there. Transformers or Ninja Turtles are little more than toy delivery systems interspersed with commercials for sugary cereals, but there’s plenty of grown-up shitsacks who can’t see the forest for the trees, focusing on the characters and the collectibles instead of the poisoned foundation. Who cares if I’ve been captured by a selfish and mercenary system? Starscream has a new color scheme! That’s not what’s really happening in Brigsby Bear, because the film is way too earnest to look askance at any of its characters. The kidnapping is merely a vehicle to get Tim-and-Eric-esque skits onto theater screens, a backdrop to give a weirdo auteur his big moment of creation. The values of Brigsby Bear are those tired messages of creativity and assertive dream fulfillment, and not about questioning where those dreams come from or what the creativity is in service of.
Once the viewer recognizes on what field the film is playing, the only thing left to do is shrug and go along for the ride. As a longtime Tim and Eric fan, I’m going to enjoy cable access levels of amateurishness, even with a premise as bitter as this one. The I-don’t-know-that-this-is-bad ethos of oblivious content creators is charming if there’s passion behind it, and James is nothing if not passionate. Mooney doesn’t invite sympathy because he doesn’t view himself as having been wronged, so connection with his character rests with his charisma as a fish out of water. He’s able to achieve this by embodying the film’s earnest tone, whether that means he’s excitedly stating that he’s made a friend or if he’s running away in a panic after getting his dick touched for the first time. Like any passionate fan, he has a high capacity for enthusiasm, and Mooney plays that enthusiasm in a constant state of awe. If I can’t get my cult film appreciation fulfilled, I can at least appreciate any communication of awe, one of my favorite cinematic emotions.
Brigsby Bear ends up being a cock-eyed comedy, insisting that its warped scenario is a heartwarming one. Mooney does the most insisting, and he’s persuasive. The film needed to take his real parents into greater consideration, as them participating in Brigsby is not unlike a recovered cult member convincing their family to wear matching sneakers and castrate themselves before the return of the Hale-Bopp comet. It’s just not that kind of film. The one that it ends up being is totally acceptable. C+