Brigsby Bear (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Breaking out of the festival circuit, Brigsby Bear is a serio-comedy that offers a quirky, off-kilter dramatic comedy that audiences may fall in love with.
While something of an unconventional leading man, Kyle Mooney really delivers a great performance, carrying a precocious little film about repeated new discoveries on his back.
It's creative and inventive. It's a tiny movie with a big heart. However...
What is it ultimately trying to say? That creativity and inventiveness comes at the expense of some feeling the ultimate statement the movie makes does not comport with reality.
I know people who cannot stand Kyle Mooney's style of writing and comedy. Dare I say, this movie will likely do little to change the hearts and minds of non-fans.
Occasionally, the film dwells in moments of immaturity, which could drive some viewers mad. For some, James' progression through the film's obstacles and adventures will not come quick or fast enough.
For those aware of Kyle Mooney's quirky, stutter-step approach to comedy, both on screen and away from his current run on sketch comedy show "Saturday Night Live" (SNL), you come to expect an odd, dry, occasionally head-scratching type of comedy that sometimes hits you hard in the gut once the clip or video has come to an end.
Mooney, who rarely leads sketches on the show, steps in front of the camera, in virtually every scene of Brigsby Bear, his collaboration with childhood friends, screenwriter Kevin Costello and director Dave McCary. Mooney plays 25-year-old James, who lives in a controlled environment with his parents (Mark Hamill, Jane Adams). Once a week a new episode of his favorite program, "Brigsby Bear Adventures" arrives on videocassette and he watches it like a child seeing television for the first time.
When the episode concludes, he opens up his computer, turns on a webcam, and vidcasts his thoughts on the episode and series developments, further engaging in chats with viewers in the Brigsby Bear chat room. He is obsessed with all things Brigsby, and his room is full of merchandise and trinkets from the show.
As viewers, we recognize that things just don't quite seem right, and when James and his dad look out at the stars, they do so through a weather-protective bubble. When his parents do leave the home, what we realize is actually an underground bunker, they don gas masks. Is this a post-apocalyptic family that survived something horrible? Or is something else happening here?
As others have shared what is really going on within the main story of Brigsby Bear, I think it is safe to say that indeed, something else is happening here. And James' life is about to turn completely upside down. He will soon find himself in a new environment, seeing things in a new world for the first-time ever, integrating into a society he never knew existed.
There's a simple beauty to the film which is hard to deny. One criticism people have of Mooney, including his work with SNL colleague Beck Bennett (who pops up here briefly), and his comedy in general, is that he seldom delivers the hearty laugh. A friend of mine says he is an impossible nut to crack and gets frustrated seeing his work. He believes that no matter how hard he tries, he is never going to "get Mooney."
As the movie slips outside the bunker and into something more real for James, Mooney balances a youthful enthusiasm, innocence, naivete, and a vulnerability that could rub some people the wrong way, but others will likely find endearing. Mooney and Costello send James into worlds which feel very big and very small at the same time. And James is constantly exploring, trying to understand everything he encounters, attempting to splice those moments into a life he thought he knew with a life he never knew he could have.
When James finds himself interacting outside of the bunker, he shares "Brigsby Bear Adventure" stories with anyone who will listen. He catches the ear of an young aspiring filmmaker, Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.), who is struck by how detailed and dense James drills into the Brigsby canon. An offer to James allows him to consider making the impossible possible - making, directing, and starring in more episodes of the greatest show ever made.
The film does offer one significant conundrum. Brigsby Bear does a lot of terrific things: James wins us over, his challenges become successes, and his vulnerabilities lead to conflicts and struggles we root for him to overcome. When he laughs, we smile. If sad, we worry.
However, viewers will likely leave the film feeling one way, only to then deconstruct what they have watched, and realize that the movie largely ignores a troubling and alarming malaise around dishonesty, physical and mental control, and an abuse and leverage of power.
This is a difficult hypocrisy to wrap your arms around because on the one hand, when a movie sends people home happy, rare is the moment where that film payloads a slow, molasses-like crawl of uneasiness as you contemplate what you have seen.
And yet, perhaps that is the genius of Mooney's comedy. When given the spotlight on SNL, he downshifts and accelerates his punchlines with ease, leaving you unsure if you should laugh right then, or if something else is coming. He thrives in the awkward pauses and, with this potential breakout film, one created with friends from middle school, Mooney drives this vehicle at his own quirky and unique speed.
Original, creative, and flirting with brilliance, there's a lot to ponder and digest here. It is hard to rectify the ultimate message the film seems to be sending, however, along the way, I found myself smiling and occasionally giddy at Mooney, his character, and the strange little curio known as Brigsby Bear.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., Claire Danes, Beck Bennett, Alexa Demie, Andy Samberg, Kate Lyn Sheil, Chance Crimin, Jane Adams, Tim Heidecker.
Director: Dave McCary
Written by: Kyle Mooney, Kevin Costello
Release Date: July 28, 2017
Sony Pictures Classics