It’s a rare treat to see a film that radiates love for the medium — not for the legend of Hollywood, but the simple act of telling a visual story. For all of its curiosities and a distinct effort to be different, Brigsby Bear is one such movie. It’s the story of a man rescued from the only home he’s ever known — a bunker of sorts decked out with 80s tech and trappings — told the people he knows as his parents kidnapped him and taken to live with his real family in the real world.
James (Kyle Mooney) is sweet, polite, unjaded, incredibly whole for a person who has spent his entire life living in an airlocked, underground lie. But his exclusive contact with the eccentric, rather cultish, intellectuals who raised him has left him completely ill-equipped to interact with the world around him. This, like everything else, doesn’t phase James. What shakes him is the revelation that Brigsby Bear, his favorite show (the only one he’s ever seen, in fact) was a part of the hoax. It was crafted, week-by-week, for him, by Ted (Mark Hamill in a bizarrely charming turn), the man he believed to be his father. That he can’t find out what happens next, and that no one else was ever watching Brigsby’s adventures along with him is what shatters James. In an instant, the one connection he thought he had with the world leaves him. But, even rudderless he carries on. He learns about movies, goes to a house party, even makes a friend.
But, even rudderless he carries on. He learns about movies, goes to a house party, even makes a friend. And this unbridled optimism, this resistance to dwell in darkness is what is so infectious about the movie. Everything about Brigsby Bear the show is terrible. It’s the kind of stuff hipsters love ironically, but when James rattles off the details of a space fight or some mythology, it’s impossible not to want to see this guy realize his dream of finishing the story and sharing it with anyone who will give it the time of day. When he ropes his younger sister’s friends and a local detective (Greg Kinnear in a scene-stealing, occasionally uproarious performance) into the process, it’s a recipe for quite a unique adventure.
Brigsby Bear works because it’s simple and sweet. Instead of grasping for something harrowing or profound, Brigsby Bear treats James’ story with heaps of earnestness and humanity. It allows us to laugh with him as he blunders around trying to build a life. It dares to suggest that even unimaginable situations have measures of levity. The result isn’t revolutionary, but it is an entertaining story that examines how culture and connections shape our lives.