Everyone has fond memories of their favorite childhood television shows due to the adventures the characters took or the lessons and morals learned. The new indie comedy Brigsby Bear plays with the idea of the social impact on a person’s mental state if a child was shown endless new episodes of only their favorite show throughout their development well into early adulthood – that may sound like a bizarre premise, but Brigsby Bear is one of the sweetest, most enjoyable films of the year.
James Pope (SNL’s Kyle Mooney) has lived his entire life in a bunker with his parents Ted and April Mitchum (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams, respectively). His only connection to the outside world since he was a child is the show Brigsby Bear, featuring a talking bear and his friends going on magic adventures and learning life lessons. One night James sneaks up to the surface to watch the night’s sky and sees the coming lights of police cars signaling the beginning of a traumatic status change to James’ life.
I’d prefer not to give away too much of the plot, but needless to say, James finds out he was abducted as a child and the couple he had been raised by were in fact not his real parents. Even more devastating to James, Brigsby Bear isn’t even a real show, which brings everything he’s ever believed into question while trying to carve out a new life in the real world with his biological family.
Brigsby Bear is essentially a fish-out-of-water story and much of the humor comes from that very concept, but the film does a wonderful job of not going for the obvious joke and subtly avoids most clichés. Kyle Mooney’s slightly disconnected performance is also nicely understated, while displaying James as a broken, but still quite intelligent and curious individual struggling to find meaning a now much bigger world.
Greg Kinnear also stars as Detective Vogel, the officer that located James and is tasked with helping James re-integrate with his family. Kinnear is at his infectious “nice guy” best in the role and his developing friendship and admiration for James is a terrific central part of the heart in Brigsby Bear.
But the real standout of the film is Mark Hamill as James’ abductor father and creator of the faux-Brigsby Bear program. Ted doesn’t have an excessive amount of screen time, but Hamill’s performance and presence is felt throughout the film and the Star Wars actor has never been better than his final scene with James near the end of the film – it’s a note-perfect performance and incredibly touching.
James stumbles and falls throughout the movie on his path to coming to grips in a post-Brigsby Bear world, and his burgeoning relationship with his filmmaker friend Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and his teen-angsty sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins) provides a lot of the growing pains in the middle of the film, but also sets the stage for an emotional final act with some sincerely fun “feel good” moments.
Brigsby Bear is great counter-programming for anyone tired of the loud flashy summer blockbusters, but still wants to go to the theater to see a story that isn’t depressing or pretentious. The tremendous cast and the story that is so pleasantly offbeat, but still accessible, makes for one of the most welcome surprises of the summer.