Brigsby Bear Review

Brigsby Bear
James Pope (Mooney) is obsessed with retro fantasy TV series Brigsby Bear, feverishly collecting merchandise and hoarding VHS tapes. Then he discovers that the show has been made especially for him, and his world comes crumbling down.

by Nick De Semlyen |
Published on
Release Date:

08 Dec 2017

Running Time:

97 minutes



Original Title:

Brigsby Bear

Through strange serendipity, December is bringing not one but two films about a peculiar man with bad hair who embarks on making a film with the support of some bemused strangers. There’s James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, about real-life hulking auteur Tommy Wiseau, which was inspired by cinematic disaster The Room. But an even more bonkers tale is Brigsby Bear, which, in another bit of strange serendipity, has some similarities with cinematic non-disaster Room. It’s the story of an abductee who is released from the clutches of the cultish couple who took him as a child, and who tries to adapt back to normal society by making a DIY movie about a magical bear.

There are flashes of magic here.

Unlike Room, it’s unlikely to get Oscar nominations. But the film can’t be accused of being derivative — it walks its own weird, sometimes unsettling, sometimes curiously touching path, and it’s hard to guess where the hell it’s going. One of the biggest surprises is its pedigree, with the team behind Lonely Island (Hot Rod and last year’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) credited as producers and Saturday Night Live contributor Dave McCary in the director’s chair.

Those credits suggest a wacky, knockabout comedy, but Brigsby Bear is actually a carefully paced character piece that’s tinged with sadness. The early scenes set out the dynamic between scraggy, Napoleon Dynamite-y lead character James (Kyle Mooney), and the older pair who are keeping him shut up in their bunker, played by Mark Hamill (still rocking his Last Jedi beard) and Jane Adams. There are funny details — the three shake hands before eating their meals — but nothing is played explicitly for laughs, and you sense a real bond between them all, even as small touches (including a poster that declares, “CURIOSITY IS AN UNNATURAL EMOTION”) hint at the brainwashing that’s going on.


This is also where Brigsby is introduced. To keep James busy and enforce certain messages, his faux-parents have created a long-running fake TV show about a human-sized bear who travels through time and space on cosmic adventures. The few sequences we see from this show are far and away the highpoints of Brigsby Bear: surreal, deliberately crude and full of bizarre texture. Seemingly inspired by religious American kids’ shows from the 1980s such as Gospel Bill and Prayer Bear, the lo-fi footage is psychedelically unhinged, with magical crystals and a villain named Sunsnatcher who looks as if he would hang out with the moon from The Mighty Boosh.

That stuff is truly original and excellently executed, but over far too quickly. And once James is released from captivity and enters the real world, Brigsby Bear loses its way, dropping the edginess and becoming yet another schmaltzy bunch-of-oddballs-making-a-DIY-film story in the vein of Me And Earl And The Dying Girl or Be Kind Rewind. Even within the weird rules of this world, it rings false that everyone would get on board so unhesitatingly with James’ bizarre mission to make a Brigsby movie. And the visual imagination that boosts the opening sequences peters out as the story continues. Frankly, it needed more bear.

If it doesn’t quite sustain its initial promise, at least it’s a very promising directing debut for McCary. There are flashes of magic here, and not just in the bits involving Sunsnatcher’s crystals.

A film about a cult that might well attract a cult following itself. But it’s only moderately successful, with the early scenes hinting at a bolder, more satisfying tale that could have been.
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