I call Las Vegas my home so I tend to enjoy movies about gambling and casinos, and “The House” has plenty of good quality laughs. It’s not a shining example of a great comedy by any means, but it’s funny and creative enough to mildly recommend if you’re looking to switch your brain off for 90 minutes. I am actually surprised at how amusing this movie is.
Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler are Scott and Kate Johansen, a married couple whose only daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) is ready to leave for college. It turns out that after some financial confusion, they have no money to send her to school. Desperate to make $50,000 as quickly as possible, their gambling addict neighbor Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) suggests they start and run an illegal underground casino because, after all, “the house always wins.” The story may not sound that hilarious on the surface; it’s when the trio starts to become consumed with their new roles as wannabe casino mobsters that the entire premise takes off.
There isn’t a river of free flowing, laugh-a-minute jokes here, but there are enough quality laughs from the gags that do land — and when they land, they land in a big way. You may not be laughing throughout, but you’ll be laughing heartily when you do. Poehler and Ferrell actually pair comedically well together, playing off each other with a casual, comfortable swagger, but it’s Mantzoukas who quickly becomes the real scene stealer. His down and out character is funny without ever passing into lazy slapstick territory, and he is remarkably capable of handling some of the film’s darker, more serious jokes.
Nick Kroll and Rob Huebel lend their usual brand of deadpan humor as the crooked town mayor and the affable police chief, and there’s an unexpected brief cameo from Jeremy Renner as a real baddie (I wish he’d had more time onscreen). If you tend to find any of these actors hilarious, then you’ll “get” the brand of comedy in this movie.
Overall the film is not as generic as you’d expect and is actually a pretty funny concept that’s well executed. The story didn’t go in the direction I expected, and there are a few genuine surprises. Will this be a comedy classic for the ages? Nah. But it’s enjoyable even if it is ultimately forgettable.
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.