James (Kyle Mooney) has spent his entire life in an underground survival bunker with his parents, Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams) - 25 years, in fact. His main entertainment for all that time was a TV show that has been his whole life. But, he learns the hard way that life is more than just the antics of “Brigsby Bear.”
I kept on thinking, while watching director Dave McCary’s feature comedy debut, of the 1999 film, “Blast from the Past,” with Brendan Frazier as a young man who grew up in a survival bunker with his parents. That is the premise, also, for “Brigsby Bear,” but that is where the two films take divergent directions.
“Brigsby Bear” is a darker film than the ’99 comedy as it brings in issues like kidnapping and fitting in, for James, into a world he is ill equipped to handle. When the authorities find the bunker and seize his faux parents, who took James as a tiny baby, he thinks he is under arrest. The investigator assigned to the case, Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear), tells the man-child that he was abducted and introduces him to his real parents, Greg (Matt Walsh) and Louise (Michaela Watkins).
James has viewed and re-viewed 25 years of the “Brigsby Bear” educational TV program, which his “father,” Ted (Mark Hamill), created in the still-existing, undestroyed world for his kept-in-recluse “son.” The larger-than-life Brigsby has been James’s sole TV companion and, once back in the real world, he cannot let it go. When his newly introduced sister, Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), invites him to a party, he drinks and does drugs for the first time in his life. There, he has an epiphany – make the final installment and bring to a conclusion the story of Brigsby Bear.
“Quirky” is a word I bandied with while thinking about “Brigsby” but, I think, “Eccentric” suits it better. Screenwriters Kevin Costello and the film’s star Kyle Mooney take the blast from the past and turn it into a catharsis for a young man who missed out on world events for a quarter century. How this all turns out is a feel good ending with James becoming complete. I give it a C+.
James (Kyle Mooney, SNL, "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising") is being raised by his parents Ted (Mark Hamill, "Star Wars") and April Mitchum (Jane Adams, "Happiness") in an underground bunker, protected from the toxic air outside. April is concerned he's spending too much time on his favorite TV show and not enough time on his math, but as it turns out, James has bigger problems, having been kidnapped as an infant. When he's reunited with his real family, he's still attached to the old because of that show they created for him, "Brigsby Bear."
Writers Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello lay a rich groundwork for their tale of aggravated arrested development. Take for example April's concern that her 'son' has yet to solve some complex mathematical equation, a scenario that hints at an ulterior motive which never comes to pass. Do the Mitchums have any kind of grand plan for the twenty-five year-old they treat like a pre-adolescent yet educate at much higher levels? What he does get from his illegal adopters is his father's love of filmmaking, the end of Ted's 'Brigsby Bear Adventures,' which one of his cast describes as Canadian access television, inspiring James to make a movie featuring his idol.
It's a good thing that Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear, ensemble MVP), the frustrated actor who returns James to his rightful home, believes in his victim's project enough to spring props, including the mechanized bear head, from the evidence locker, which does not endear him to Greg (Matt Walsh, HBO's 'Veep') and Louise Pope (Michaela Watkins, "In a World..."). They're trying to forge their own family identity with their son, but Brigsby Bear is his entire world.
When his sullen teenaged sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins, "A Single Man," "The House") half-heartedly invites him to a party, she's anticipating embarrassment, but James's announcement that he's making a movie gets Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr., "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), Logan (Chance Crimin) and Meredith (Alexa Demie), who also attempts a makeout session, on board. But James has no real world filter and his movie effect experimentation with explosives lands him in a psychiatric ward. There he'll meet Eric (Andy Samberg), who encourages escape and joins his cast. James's search for Brigsby's 'Smile Sisters' produces Arielle (Kate Lyn Sheil, "You're Next," "Listen Up Philip"), a diner waitress who also re-ups.
Director Dave McCary ('SNL') harnesses the sweet, slightly subversive tone emanating from cowriter/star Mooney who always acts his mental age. The production impresses early on with its bunker's star gazing dome, its exterior dressed with Tim's mechanical animals. But the film never delves deeply enough into James's arrested mental state. The young man is treated like everyone else, even by arresting police aware of his history. Kinnear's gentle detective scratching his acting bug is far and away the most interesting element of "Brigsby Bear," a movie that embraces the childhood compulsion to put on a show.
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