Review: Brigsby Bear (2017) ★★★

Having watched Kyle Mooney’s Youtube channel and subsequent success on Saturday Night Live, I can say without reservation that he is as bizarre as he is hilarious. His brand of comedy functions as playfully detached self-degradation, where any and all strange tangents that one’s brain experiences come to life and interact (often uncomfortably) with the real world. His speech is used as a reflection of his characters’ own insecurities, utilizing fragmented and slurred words, with less-than-perfect use of common phrases and idioms. This brand of comedy is put to excellent use in Dave McCary’s Brigsby Bear. The film, written by Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello, feels like a sneak peek into Mooney’s strange take on the world, with its many arbitrary rules and confusing intricacies.

In Brigsby Bear, we are first introduced to James (Kyle Mooney), a young man who lives in an underground bunker with his parents, Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams). James, who is not allowed to leave the house, is obsessed with a surreal, low-budget children’s show called Brigsby Bear. He owns every tape of the show ever made, and he frequently discusses different fan theories concerning the show with his parents. One night, James sneaks out onto the roof of the bunker, where he sees police cars approaching. In a chaotic sequence, James’ parents are arrested and the police bring James back to the police station. As it turns out, Ted and April are not his real parents, but actually his abductors. Having desperately wanted a real child, they kidnapped him as an infant and deceived him into believing that the world outside was a toxic wasteland. Now reunited with his biological family, James is a complete outsider in the real world, unable to comprehend the complexities of modern life. Knowing nothing but the life lessons he learned from Brigsby Bear, James attempts to assimilate into normal society, but he is unable to shake the passion for his favourite television show.

What works best in Brigsby Bear is that it allows Kyle Mooney to just be weird. His character, having internalized years of strange family rituals, morals, and pseudo-science from Brigsby Bear, has no frame of reference for anything out in the world. His understanding of technology is even antiquated, having had no access to the Internet, and no contact with real people outside his deranged, but oddly sympathetic parents. When James starts using Google for the first time, he asks questions politely, in a manner that no normal person ever would. He also frequently repeats phrases that he has just heard, albeit awkwardly and completely ignorant of their meaning. Its an environment in which Kyle Mooney’s comedic talent truly shines.

James Brigsby costume
James never loses his passion for Brigsby Bear, which makes him both a fascinating individual and a pariah to those around him.

While Mooney gives a fantastic performance as the film’s hopeless protagonist, and the premise feels completely new and refreshing, it ventures into very familiar territory once James starts to adjust to the outside world. The rest of the characters are very understanding of James, to a degree, but of course his weirdness eventually alienates him, forcing him to face the harsh realities of life outside of the bunker. Tonally, it feels like any other underdog film, albeit with a unique story of its own. If not for the offbeat story and Mooney’s natural charisma, this would be just another bland feel-good movie with an ending that anyone could predict.

Brigsby Bear is definitely worth a watch, and ultimately it is an incredibly funny and altogether peculiar film. Though it is pretty traditional in its structure and tone, Brigsby Bear showcases Mooney’s talent as both a writer and a leading man.

Brigsby Bear is available to rent or purchase via Amazon here.

Rating: ★★★ out of 5

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