Film Review: Brigsby Bear

There aren’t a lot of films in recent memory that have a premise or main character as weird as Brigsby Bear, but there aren’t that many with as much heart either. While there are some good laughs peppered through the movie, it was Brigsby Bear’s unique, kooky charm that kept me smiling after I left the theater.

Brigsby Bear tells the story of James Pope (Kyle Mooney), a young man who was kidnapped as a baby and raised in a bunker believing his captors, Ted and April (Mark Hamil and Jane Adams), were his parents. The one thing keeping James truly happy in his small world is Brigsby Bear, a TV show that teaches important life skills in addition to arithmetic, which he watches and fanboys over. Fairly early into the movie, James is rescued by the police, told the truth about his “parents,” and reunited with his real family. While all of that would be quite a lot to deal with already, James also learns that Brigsby Bear was a show made only for him by Ted, and now it won’t get the ending it needs. After exploring a bit of the real world for the first time, James decides to finish Brigsby’s story by making a movie. I know a good chunk of that sounds depressing, but don’t worry. Brigsby Bear quickly changes its darker tone for one of exceptional brightness.

James is aided by many people through his journey, both in making his movie and adjusting to his new life. His sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), her friend Spence (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear), Eric (best seen without an introduction), and his biological parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) are all there for James in one way or another. Everyone was great cast-wise, but Kyle Mooney, Matt Walsh, and Greg Kinnear were the standouts.

Mooney used just the right mix of pluckiness and strangeness for James. This is a character that could’ve easily been sappy or off-putting, but was executed remarkably well due to Mooney and Kevin Costello’s amazing writing, Dave McCary’s wonderful direction, and Mooney’s phenomenal performance.

Walsh showed a lot of under-the-surface emotion in Greg Pope, which I felt was crucial for the buy-in on some of the decisions he made in Brigsby Bear. I’ve seen him in quite a few movies, but Brigsby Bear is easily the best role I’ve seen Walsh in.

Kinnear was stupendous as always, and brought a whole lot of heart to Brigsby Bear. He made Detective Vogel almost as much fun to watch as James, and with significantly less screentime. During one scene with just the two of them, James says something that seems so simple, yet wise enough that it kind of caught me off guard, and Kinnear’s Vogel reacted in a subdued, darn-near perfect way.

Speaking of reactions, I think it’s James’ effect on the people around him that really made Brigsby Bear stand out to me. James definitely has a lot of growth to make in the new world he’s in, but that doesn’t mean he can’t drop little bits of life-changing wisdom upon others along the way.

Brigsby Bear is a strange movie, but I think that only adds to its value along with an awesome cast and witty writing. Despite its somewhat dark beginning it’s a fun, engaging story, and is my feel-good movie of the summer.

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