When Sony Picture Classics acquired Brigsby Bear in early 2017, the close-knit group behind the film insisted that the plot be kept a secret in the marketing. Eventually, the film went on to earn a meagre $532,000 at the box office, a crying shame for such a unique, endearing and poignant film successfully representing nerd culture without looking down upon it. While it may have been a mistake to hide the plot from a financial perspective, Brigsby Bear is a film that benefits from knowing as little as possible going in, with the subversive plot revealing itself slowly throughout the first act of the film, resulting in much more satisfying payoffs at the end.
Brigsby Bear follows 25-year-old James Pope’s journey to complete the story of ‘Brigsby Bear’ a fictional children’s TV show which abruptly ends without resolution. Co-written and starring Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney, this premise could have easily been played for comedy and ended up a 90-minute glorified SNL sketch. Instead, director and fellow SNL alumni Dave McCary directs the script, co-written by Mooney and Kevin Costello, as a straight drama, deriving an unexpectedly dry sense of humour from the film’s bizarre premise alone. Mooney portrays James as a socially awkward obsessive who at the same is sweet and well-intentioned, going to incredible lengths to complete Brigsby’s story. Underneath the out-there plot, Brigsby Bear acts as an ode to fan culture; anyone who has been a fan of anything can relate to the heartbreak of finding out that thing doesn’t exist anymore. A TV show ending, a band breaking up, an artist passing away – the feeling is universal, making James an unlikely but relatable protagonist.
Unlike many other films with nerdy lead characters, James Pope never questions his desire to complete his Brigsby movie, despite his concerned parents’ best efforts. There is never a moment where he considers giving it all up to be perceived as ‘normal’. The infectious drive and enthusiasm of James Pope is a joy to watch on screen, and his charisma drives the other characters to change themselves, rather than attempt to stifle James’ creativity.
This is due in large part to Mooney’s excellent performance as a man who just wants everybody else to love Brigsby as much as he does. Eventually he finds a companion in budding VFX designer Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and the two get to work on making the ‘unofficial’ Brigsby Bear movie.
Despite the idea of an educational children’s TV show about a semi-animatronic talking bear being rooted firmly in the past, Brigsby Bear is a modern take on filmmaking in the 21st century. Before Brigsby and Saturday Night Live, Mooney, Costello and McCary were part of YouTube comedy group Good Neighbour, so the idea that anyone with a camera and a good story can be a creator is clearly part of the film’s DNA. Considering Brigsby Bear was co-produced by The Lonely Island, who also rose to fame online before turning to Hollywood, everyone involved does an impeccable job of maintaining the film’s earnest tone throughout. A sense of melancholy hangs over the film from the opening plot twist which isn’t really resolved until the end, giving the film a truly unique, if sometimes uncomfortable, tone.
Like the fictional TV show which the film centres around, hopefully Brigbsy Bear will gain a cult following after its release on home video and streaming, as films this unique are few and far between. An excellent performance from Kyle Mooney grounds the larger than life plot and injects a sense of wonder and discovery, while the comedy royalty behind Brigsby Bear perfectly tow the line between humour and sincerity, crafting a touching story on what it means to be a filmmaker – and a film lover – in the 21st century. The strangeness of Brigsby Bear meant that it was never destined to be a blockbuster hit, but that’s kind of the point; this is a film about loving something despite it’s eccentricities and what other people think of it. It speaks directly to a generation of creators who can produce something unique and still have it find an audience online, made by a group of people who have done exactly that.
Brigsby Bear is avialble now on DVD/ Digital Download.
Words by Ethan Megenis-Clarke @_ethanmc