By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn
A feeling of euphoria swirled through me as the closing credits came up for BRIGSBY BEAR. After sitting through four heavy hitting, often draining dramas at the Sydney Film Festival, I was in the mood for something a little brighter. It wasn’t that I disliked the previous films, I really enjoyed most of them, but I wanted to watch something that would make me smile. I wanted something that would make me happy. When sitting down for BRIGSBY BEAR, the latest film from musical comedy icons The Lonely Island, I got exactly that.
The plot for BRIGSBY BEAR is tricky to navigate. I could, potentially, give you a general rundown on what this film is really about, but I don’t want to do that to you. The marketing campaign has been simple and effective, all without ruining any of the film’s many surprises. This is a movie best experienced in the cinema with as little prior knowledge as possible, for the first act delivers an absolute gut punch of a twist that’s certainly best to avoid. But, that being said, knowing the general gist of what this film is about will certainly pull you in with its weirdness and unique originality. It combines together several familiar ideas and creates something fresh out of it.
James (Kyle Mooney of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE) has an obsession with a TV show titled ‘Brigsby Bear.’ It is, quite literally, the only show he knows. The show consumes his mind, distracting him from his studies and other responsibilities, including helping out around the house with parents Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams). But Brigsby Bear becomes no more. When James’ life is twisted upside down, and the show is consequently cancelled, he struggles to find purpose. His new life isn’t working for him. Then, he discovers the power of cinema. It’s an art form not previously exposed to James, and after experiencing it first hand, he sets out to make a Brigsby Bear movie of his own to finish the story he holds so dear to his heart.
Think 2015’s ROOM, but with a more comedic twist, delivered in a style The Lonely Island knows best. Screenwriters Kyle Mooney (who’s equally fantastic as the lead character) and Kevin Costello have created an absolutely joyous movie that hits all the right notes. It’s a film that packs a serious punch. Mooney and Costello are able to create a vulnerability and naïve sense of awareness in their protagonist that fits with the style of the movie. James’ knowledge of the world around him is limited, and as he uncovers the secrets hidden within, his journey becomes increasingly emotional, and equally hilarious.
I’ve made films before. I write screenplays all the time. As someone with that experience under my belt, BRIGSBY BEAR spoke to me deeply. It touches the hearts and souls of everyone who has, or has ever had a burning passion for something. This passion doesn’t necessarily have to be filmmaking, either. If you’ve loved something, and wanted to do something more than anything, there’s nothing stopping you. There’s nothing stopping James, either, and his determination and love for this children’s show is the heart and soul of BRIGSBY BEAR. It speaks to the ambitious, the creative and those who’ve ever wanted to do the thing they love.
First time film director David McCary, who has received an Emmy nomination for his work on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, crafts a film that’s beautiful in every way. You’ll have a hard time believing that this is his first feature film. It’s jam packed with life and love, backed with several incredible performances from every member of the cast. From Mark Hamill to Claire Danes to Ryan Simpkins to every other character coming and going throughout, they all nail their respective roles. They bring something unique to the table, culminating into a poignant and touching story that brought me, and everyone around me, to tears.
There’s a keen sense of wonder brewing throughout the entire runtime. Merely the idea of a TV show called Brigsby Bear is so strange and wonderful, yet something that could absolutely exist in real life. There’s a grand mythology behind it, reminiscent of the low budget sci-fi shows of old. An early twist in the plot puts a lot of things into perspective, but the love James has for the show brings things back into the spotlight. His arc is great. It is, in a lot of ways, a coming of age story, and those elements of the plot made for some of my favourite scenes. He goes on a very personal journey, and while a lot of the third act does fall into predictable territory, it ends on a satisfying note that left me with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.
Obstacles are frequently overcome with ease, often defying logic, but they elevate the charm. Certain characters have issues with the way James chooses to live his life, and the tension ranges between being unexplored and then jumping straight into a change of heart. You don’t always buy into the arcs, but the conclusion to them is welcomed nonetheless. They’re supporting characters. This isn’t their story. It belongs to James, and he’s one of my favourite movie heroes from this year’s festival. Audiences everywhere are going to fall in love with his story when this film hits cinemas, and you need to make checking it out an absolute necessity.
BRIGSBY BEAR is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It gained my curiosity through Mark Hamill and the Lonely Island, and then completely blew away all expectations I had for it. You’re going to adore this inspirational love letter to cinema. Even with my minor gripes and plot issues, they don’t matter too much in grand scheme of things. They’re as unimportant to the plot as Brigsby Bear conveniently finding a game-changing source of power just in time to save the universe from total and utter annihilation once again.
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