Review: Brigsby Bear (Sundance) starring Kyle Mooney & Mark Hamill
PLOT: A young man (Kyle Mooney) living a sheltered existence with his parents (Mark Hamill & Jane Adams) finds meaning in his life through the adventures of Brigsby Bear, a superhero children’s TV character. However, all is not as it seems…
REVIEW: BRIGSBY BEAR is a late Sundance treat. Having premiered with very little buzz, and a program description that made it sound like a run-of-the-mill indie comedy, no one expected much. As such, about ninety percent of the critics attending the press screening walked out asking each other, “wow, where the heck did that come from?” A funny, but also quite charming story about how entertainment and art often helps us define our existence, this is one of the best meditations on media’s effect on consumers, and how even if something is made with sinister intentions, the real truth of the art depends on how its interpreted by the viewer.
In BRIGSBY BEAR, we learn within ten minutes that Mooney’s thirty-year-old is a stolen child, with his faux-parents raising him in an elaborate ruse where the outside world is poison. To control him, his frustrated artist father, played by Mark Hamill in the best showcase part he’s had in years, has been making a show on his own, “Brigsby Bear” that becomes an obsession for his son and helps him control his behavior.
Once he’s rescued by a sweet-natured cop (Greg Kinnear), he has to re-integrate into his real family, with his parents (Matt Walsh & Michaela Watkins) and sister (Ryan Simpkins) trying to help him acclimate - no easy feat considering he’s totally unaware of the outside world, not even knowing what a dog is. Sounds pretty heavy right, almost like ROOM? Well, here’s the thing - BRIGSBY BEAR is sweetly hilarious. Produced by The Lonely Island (with their art-house logo, “Lonely Island Classics” getting a big laugh), this allows SNL’s Mooney to give an inspired comic performance, but also one with genuine pathos and heart.
The crux of the film is Mooney’s obsession with somehow completing the BRIGSBY BEAR saga. He loves it, even if it was the weapon of his oppression. And if you think this might get dark, you’d be mistaken, with everyone involved portrayed as singularly kind-hearted, from Kinnear’s cop with a yearn to act, to his parents and sister, and even the waitress (Kate Lyn Sheil) who acted in the shows as a part-time job.
Through it all, BRIGSBY BEAR is a major showcase for Mooney, who also co-wrote (one of his SNL directors, Dave McCary, directs). Hamill also surprises in one of his few truly great live-action parts outside of STAR WARS, one that cleverly employs his fame as a voice-over artist, with him voicing all the “Brigsby Bear” videos we see sprinkled through the film - all of which are shot like the weirdest public access TV show to ever escape the eighties.
In some ways, BRIGSBY BEAR seems cut from the same cloth as SWISS ARMY MAN, being so defiantly quirky, but it also has more heart than that film, and maintains its quirkiness without losing the narrative. It’s wildly creative and one that’s sure to be a cult hit for whatever smart distributor picks it up.