Brigsby Bear Review: A Portrait of Uniting Wonder

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Warm, tender, and emotionally complex, Brigsby Bear, director Dave McCary’s debut feature, is among the most unique films of the year so far. Taking a few pages from the premise of Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the film follows the story of a soul on a journey of self discovery in a world he’s never seen before, and it takes that journey with its heart on its sleeve and a narrative that is both essentially difficult and human.

When late 20-something James Pope (Kyle Mooney, outwardly terrific) is rescued from two kidnappers (Mark Hamill and Jane Adam) who’ve pretended to be his parents in a post-apocalyptic world since he can remember, he has to assimilate into the real world essentially as a full grown child. That means a world without his favorite source of entertainment, Brigsby Bear, a fake TV show his captors made that’s one half Barney and one half Star Wars. Having only known the people he thought were his parents his whole life, and only traveling as far as the roof of the compound in which they held him (complete with a gas mask he didn’t need), Brigsby ends up being a pretty defining feature of James’ life, which becomes difficult for the people around him to understand.

His real parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) try to get him into a number of activities, but after one trip to a movie theater, James is only interested in finishing the story of Brigsby for the big screen. As an ode to filmmaking, and the childlike wonder it takes to spark and interest in the art, the film maintains a tender heart throughout. But it doesn’t shy away from the emotional challenges of James’ life either. He’s not quite normal in any social circle, and the creators of the thing he loves most are directly responsible for that.

The film, while about James’ quest for closure in light of his new situation, never finds time to explore how he feels about what happened to him. This is regrettable, and the biggest disappointment at first viewing. The exploration of James’ childlike state is far more rewarding, which somewhat lessens a film with such great emotional ambitions. There’s a quick narrative choice at the start of the third act that proves the film really isn’t interested in James facing what happened to him, but instead moving past it. That’s undeniable worth viewers’ time, as Brigsby Bear is truly a delight in even just its portrait of innocence, but there’s something deeper here that feels left untouched. Part of James’ story isn’t told, and it would have been a part well worth telling for where the character ends up. Yet still, this is a film where you will laugh and cry in spades, and it certainly provokes thought, it just doesn’t deliver on that provocation. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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