‘Brigsby Bear’ is a strange film, peculiar in premise, almost singular in its complete departure from cynicism, the flavor of the millennium, and unusually heartwarming and bold.
It’s difficult to talk about Brigsby Bear without giving too much away plotwise. Even the setup is potentially a spoiler. The trailer does a good job of providing the bare-bones without giving too much away: James Pope, played by cowriter Kyle Mooney, lives for the only television show he’s ever seen—Brigsby Bear. When forced from his home and beloved show, Pope sets out to film a Brigsby movie to end the series. The film, Dave McCary’s first feature, explores themes of friendship, family, and creativity. A more complete synopsis for ye of little faith can be found online, but in my opinion you should stick to the trailer, or dive in blind.
Though Mooney, McCary, and producer Andy Samberg are all SNL alums, Brigsby Bear more closely leans on the drama half of dramedy. The filmmakers’ restraint allows the carefully peppered moments of humor to shine through. And a character as naive and awkward as Pope could easy turn into the victim of relentless bullying, but the filmmakers steer him away from becoming the butt of the joke. Instead the comedy, like the film, is lighthearted. The characters treat Pope with the kind of patience and acceptance he might not receive in real life.
Mooney, in turn, crafts Pope as a sympathetic man-child—but not in a Seth Rogeny way. Instead, Pope is innocent, vulnerable, and infectiously joyful. Mark Hamill, another highlight—because when is he not?—bookends the film, and his anticipated reunion with Pope is the heart of the story, and its most well scripted scene.
But Brigsby Bear, a film essentially about the strength and support of family and friends, never feels as mawkish as it should. Perhaps it’s the strong writing. Maybe it’s the offbeat charm. Regardless, Brigsby Bear is a genuine feel good movie. Just try not to get too misty eyed at the end.
After the film establishes its premise, the beginning drags for a little. Each successive act, however, is better than the last, and builds to an emotional climax simply by creating characters you care about. In an age where studios churn out sterile and soulless safe investments, we need more strange films.
‘Brigsby Bear’ hits theaters July 28th
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