‘Brigsby Bear Adventures is a children’s TV show produced for an audience of one: James. When the show abruptly ends, James’s life changes forever, and he sets out to finish the story himself.’ – the blurb by Brigsby Bear Productions.
Brigsby Bear is a gently bizarre film about a young man whose life is upended when he learns the truth about his life and decides to make a movie to complete a children’s show that was made just for him.
James (Kyle Mooney) lives a simple life in an underground bunker with his parents, Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams) until, one night, the police come and take away from them – and reunite him with his real family in a world where underground bunkers and gas masks are not required.
His parents Greg and Louise Pope (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) are overjoyed to be reunited with him but his sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins) seems less thrilled.
Adjusting to his new life is hard – partly because he misses the kids’ show he watched in the bunker, Brigsby Bear. And since the show turns out to have been made by Ted, there are not only no new episodes but no one else has ever heard of the show.
Therapy sessions with Emily (Claire Danes) help James begin to adjust and begin to find his footing in this strange new world, but something is still missing.
So James takes it upon himself to learn how to make movies and – enlisting some friends he met at a party Aubrey (begrudgingly) took him to (and Greg Kinnear’s Detective Vogel, who took him to meet his real parents), he sets out to finish the Brigsby Bear saga.
Meanwhile, one of those new friends, Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg) has borrowed some James’ tapes of the show and uploaded them to YouTube – where they become very popular.
Director Dave McCary takes a script (by Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello – from a story by Mooney) that requires a convincing post-apocalyptic feel; a thoroughly modern world and a 700-episode kids’ show that works in the transition between them – while taking James from the tiny world in which is completely confident and moving him into one where he has absolutely no idea what’s going on.
Mooney is superb as James – his utter absorption in the world of Brigsby Bear and his utter bewilderment at learning that not only has the world not suffered an apocalypse, but Ted and April aren’t even his parents feels so real, so palpable that we have no trouble at all following him as he decides to finish the Brigsby Bear story.
There’s a unique charm in the way James teaches himself all aspects of filmmaking (including a wee bit of overkill when it comes to special effects) – but what makes Brigsby Bear special is the way that James’ enthusiasm for and delight the DIY TV show Ted made for him becomes contagious.
There’s something very cool in the way that James’ desire to finish the Brigsby Bear saga generates a positive, engaged community.
Brigsby Bear is a lovely, thoughtful and oddly whimsical tale that says that imagination and empathy can help us get through life’s rough patches – and that making a movie is a pretty cool thing to do.
In a summer where several tentpoles have flailed at the box office, maybe there’s room for a little movie with more genuine imagination and heart. If so, Brigsby Bear should be that movie.
Final Grade: A+