Sundance Review: “Brigsby Bear”



It’s a scary time in our world, one that’s suddenly filled with so much uncertainty and negativity that sometimes the stress and worry will drive you to tears — and that’s why the utterly sweet “Brigsby Bear” is just what the cinematic doctor ordered. Revealing too much of the plotline will greatly diminish the film’s best surprises, as this is a movie that is best discovered by viewing it with very little background information. This is a sincere film that’s stuffed with kindhearted humor and a feel good message of love and acceptance, and it’s my favorite movie to come out of Sundance this year.

“Brigsby Bear” tells the story of 25 year old James (Kyle Mooney), a man who has lived his entire life in a secluded bunker with a overprotective parents (including an inspired, albeit brief, performance by Mark Hamill). James has little entertainment except for an extensive VHS tape library of the oddly cult-like Brigsby Bear television show.

Brigsby, a giant plush talking bear, teaches life lessons like “curiosity is an unnatural emotion” and advance mathematic skills. The film slowly reveals the truth about where James lives (Is it a cult? The future? The past? A prison?), and a chain of events leads to his escape into the real world (in this case, it’s Utah). This is when the film becomes a quirky fish out of water story with enjoyable instances of severe culture shock as James tries to adapt to the scary new world around him.

When he realizes that he’s the only person in the world who has ever seen the Brigsby Bear t.v. show, James decides that he wants to make a movie adaptation of the series. This is when the movie really finds its footing and becomes an inspiring valentine to the joy of creating art, and it’s a message that creative types and film lovers everywhere will adore. James enlists the help of sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins) and his new friend Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) to make the movie, as well as a friendly police detective (Greg Kinnear, happily returning to his indie roots and is very funny here) who fancies himself a serious Shakespearean thespian. Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, and Claire Danes round out the cast.

Director Dave McCary has created a heartfelt, offbeat story of love and finding acceptance for who you truly are, an eccentric celebration of weirdness and the meaningful experience of sharing your art with others. There’s some darkness to the story (it touches on a few heavy themes like treatment for mental illness and isolation), but it’s mostly filled with a sweet sincerity that never rings false. I could see this film easily becoming a quirky cult classic a’la “Napoleon Dynamite.” As one character says, this movie is “dope as s#@$.”

This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

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