500 Days Of Film Reviews Comedy Drama, Brigsby Bear, Starring Kyle Mooney, Greg Kinnear And Mark Hamill
Superfan, James (Kyle Mooney), is obsessed with the clever if quaintly goofy kids’ show Brigsby Bear. A bright, sensitive young adult still living at home, he has grown up with this fantasy series, and the programme has grown with him too - getting ever more complex over the years.
One dramatic night, James’ insular world is upended. During the disorienting and often hilarious transition to a new life that follows, Brigsby remains James’ security blanket and, upon learning the series has been cancelled, he adopts the old adage that the show must go on.
Is It Any Good?
Brigsby Bear is a charming, original and unexpectedly moving film about family and friendship, acceptance and the power of shared experience. It is heartwarming, thoroughly entertaining and (laugh out loud) funny. However, you might not realise all of this from the movie’s rather bizarre opening scenes.
Directed by Dave McCary from a story by Kyle Mooney and a script by Kevin Costello, the film starts with footage from the Brigsby Bear television series. (Cue some bemused, rather nervous audience responses in my screening). However, by depicting the Brigsby Bear show in this way, the three filmmakers are able to explore nostalgia and the art of storytelling.
When the film’s premise is revealed, so its themes become apparent. Themes that very much depend on Mooney's ability to portray James. For Brigsby Bear to work, Mooney has to make us care and also feel comfortable laughing at what is an undeniably dark situation.
Mooney does both with a remarkably sincere, emotionally honest performance. He avoids the temptation to overdo the comedy or veer into slapstick territory. Here, Mooney credits his director: “Dave pushed hard for realism. There would be times when I would maybe go for the laugh in a way that felt inhuman to him or to the story. So whenever I was pushing too much comedy in a moment he always reeled me back.”
Meanwhile, within an impressive cast (who all give charming and sensitive performances) one name stands out. Mark Hamill’s casting is an absolute coup on many fronts. In a film about nostalgia and fan obsession who better to play the role of Ted Mitchum?
Having read the script, Hamill was immediately intrigued by Brigsby Bear. However, he was also apprehensive. “I thought it was just incredibly bold on their part to try and pull this off, but I also thought, ‘I’m not that sure I could effectively contribute to the piece as a whole.’ I mean, it was scary,” he recalls. “It was just cowardice on my part.”
Thankfully, Hamill accepted the challenge, tempted by the cast, the challenge of doing something that he had never done before and by the fact that McCary and Mooney valued (and needed) his expertise in voice over character work. “After I read it, I kept thinking about it, he adds. “It haunted me.”
Much of the joy of Brigsby Bear lies with James’s obsession with his favourite television show. The filmmakers had fun creating the mythology behind Brigsby Bear (a world complete with impressive marketing paraphernalia) and spent weeks designing the titular bear.
“We wanted to create this 1980’s children’s show ‘in camera’,” explains cinematographer, Christian Sprenger. “The idea was to have the final product feel like something you found on an old VHS tape at a thrift store. There was a clear opportunity to capture the audience’s attention through their nostalgia for children’s broadcasting by perfectly referencing the look and feel of that time period.”
In addition to the fun of the (vast) Brigsby Bear universe, the film also explores how a movie, television show (or any form of art) can help us make sense of our world. The movie looks at the power of a shared experience and how this can unite communities and enable people to make meaningful connections.
Meanwhile, Brigsby Bear is also a love letter to film and the act of filmmaking. “Hopefully people who see the movie will walk away with a love for filmmaking and get inspired to go out there and make something of their own,” says Mooney.
On paper, the story of Brigsby Bear may seem odd and potentially off-putting. However, do not be deterred from watching this charming and uplifting film. It certainly won me over and stole my heart.
The powerful themes of friendship in Brigsby Bear should come as no surprise given that the filmmakers have been friends since middle school.
Kyle Mooney cites Hal Ashby’s film Being There as a key inspiration for the tone of Brigsby Bear.
Teddy Ruxpin is one of the more obvious inspirations for the design of Brigsby Bear. In the year of his release, Teddy Ruxpin was named the “Official Spokesbear for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.”
Have you seen Brigsby Bear?
If you have, what did you think of this film? Let me know in the comments section below or via Facebook or Twitter (@500DaysOfFilm).