Brigsby Bear (2017)
Written by Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney
Directed by Dave McCary
James (Kyle Mooney) spends the majority of his days absorbed in his favorite television series since childhood, Brigsby Bear. New episodes are delivered in supply drops to his family’s bunker in the desert, and each chapter imparts essential life lessons, particularly in academics. However, James spends almost too much time absorbed in the world of Brigsby, while his parents wish he would spend more of his effort on developing his mind. James has spent his entire life inside this bunker and only communicates with the outside world through his decades-old computer on the Brigsby forums. He even has a crush on the young lady companion of the title bear hero. Then a revelation occurs the upsets James’ entire understanding of his life and throws him into a world he doesn’t know how to fit into. Brigsby seems to the be the one thing that can keep him afloat and help him come to terms with what his life really means.
I will do my best to refrain from revealing the interesting twist from early on in this film because I think not knowing the truth behind the film will make it that much more of an engrossing experience. Thematically, Brigsby Bear is about the conflict artists go through when made to justify themselves to the world. Inspiration can come from many places, and in our contemporary age, the walls between “high” and “low” art have come crumbling down. Something like Twin Peaks can exist on television, but we also have The Big Bang Theory. There are a variety of modes of expression, and passionate artists are often incapable of verbalizing why it is they feel a compulsion to create a particular type of art. That inspiration exists on a plane outside of language, and the art itself is both the expression and explanation.
Brigsby Bear acts as a love letter to the internet creator culture that has experienced a boom in the last decade. The producers of the film, Lonely Island, are precisely the sort of creators the film is about. Andy Samberg and associates, rather than waiting to get a significant deal with a studio, started making and publishing their comedy online. They were the first performers/writers to submit recorded performances to Saturday Night Live for an audition and be hired. Once on the show, they didn’t diverge from their digital shorts format either. Kyle Mooney and co-writer Beck Bennett had a very similar trajectory onto SNL. So, this is a film about that sort of lo-fi art that is seeing its heyday.
I’ll admit I went into Brigsby Bear expecting a sort of indie-lite, quirk-fest but was pleasantly surprised at how earnest the film was. Kyle Mooney has made a habit of playing awkward, nervous characters to the point that it doesn’t always work. But within the context of James’ story, that performance was pitch perfect. What James has experienced would undoubtedly produce someone who misread social cues and felt uncomfortable amongst large groups of people. Backing up Mooney, are Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins as a married couple struggling with earth-shaking issues in their life. Both actors have been primarily seen as comedic. I will always associate Walsh with his work as part of the Upright Citizens Brigade. But here there are given substantial dramatic roles, and they prove the adage that strong comedic actors do make for strong dramatic actors.
Brigsby Bear is an optimistic and sentimental movie. It never tries to be dark, even though some themes are relatively dark. James’ life is full of trauma. Yet, the film is about how he works through that ordeal. This silly piece of television, a sort of mashup between Teddy Ruxpin and Doctor Who was there for him as he formed as a person, so when he is going through the most significant transition of his life, Brigsby becomes his outlet to heal. For people like myself who hold particular pieces of media close to their hearts, we can definitely relate.