LFF 2017: Brigsby Bear Review

brigsby bear

“Room meets Frank meets The Truman Show meets Be Kind Rewind”

On the opening night of the London Film Festival, Brigsby Bear was introduced by the festival’s programmer as ‘what happens when people who made their careers on SNL make a film about child abduction’. She’s not far wrong. From the mind of SNL alumni, director Dave McCreary, and headed up by producer Andy Samberg (who also makes a cameo appearance), Brigsby Bear is truly a light hearted and humorous take on kidnapping and abduction. 

Brigsby Bear has drawn numerous comparisons to several critically acclaimed films, the most obvious of which is Room – predominantly for its subject matter. Let’s be clear, that is really the only thing those two films have in common. I personally found myself reminded of Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank because of McCreary’s ability to slide seamlessly between absolute tragedy and a genuinely honest laugh out loud moment. Also, something to do with a monolithic character dress up (you know – with massive heads).  

Though it is Be Kind Rewind that Brigsby Bear resembled the most, for me. Widely regarded as both funny and sweet, it is a film which also created a very strong contender for a second Ghostbusters theme. It is the thread of creativity running through both films characters, and the films themselves, that make them so similar. The likeable and naive main characters (Brigsby’s James and Be Kind‘s Jerry) keep us believing that they can achieve their wildly unattainable dreams. They are forces for creative positivity, pushing us to realise that the world isn’t such a bad place, and we can make other people happy by being ourselves. It’s exactly the kind of message that we need right now.

Brigsby Bear tells the story of James, a young man who was abducted as a baby and has lived underground with his two captors for his entire life. His ‘father’, Mark Hamill, and his ‘mother’ (Jane Adams), seem like pretty reasonable people – albeit the weird dinnertime hand shaking ritual and the weird stuffed animals in their garden.  James is rescued from the disturbingly homely underground bunker and returned to his real family within the first ten minutes. There’s a reunion with his father (Matt Walsh), mother (Michaela Watkins) and teenage sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins). Claire Danes plays James’ psychiatrist, who reveals to him that the TV show he grew up watching (the ONLY thing he watched for 25 years) is not actually real. Rather, it was created and filmed by his kidnapper Dad. James is the only person to have seen the show Brigsby Bear, and even the ‘friends’ he spoke to on forums about it turned out to have been his kidnapper parents all along. 

After befriending Spencer (“Mr Spencer”) at a party, and employing the help of both his sister, some friends and the local aspiring thespian cop Detective Vogel (played by Greg Kinnear), James sets about creating the Brigsby Bear Movie – an epic finale to the hours and hours of the TV show made solely for him. Of course there are hiccups on the way (including a home-made bomb, stealing police evidence, a bad drugs trip and time spent in a mental institution), but Brigsby Bear has a happy ending, thank goodness.

I think the real highlight of Brigsby Bear is the sincerity it manages to pull off within its characters, and this in part due to a fantastic performance by Kyle Mooney as James. He has some of the funniest lines (‘what’s wrong with you?’… ‘I was abducted as a baby..’), and delivers them with such straight-faced integrity that we genuinely feel for him, even whilst guffawing with laughter. Whilst James story is perhaps unbelievable, the relationships he forms with his ‘new’ family and friends keep us intrigued and engaged in the story. Particularly the arc of James and Aubrey as they reconnect as siblings which (unless you’ve got a heart of stone) will make you feel super happy.

There is some finer point being made somewhere in the background of Brigsby Bear about how television, cult or otherwise, can help us through difficult moments in life. James frequently talks about how Brigsby was all he had whilst he was kidnapped and when the Brigsby videos go viral, people are enchanted by it’s quirkiness. Cult TV features heavily throughout the film, Spencer’s bedroom is filled with Star Trek posters – a programme itself that was slightly out of the mainstream to begin with, but is deeply loved and obsessed over by it’s fans. A bit like Brigsby, perhaps?

The film never reveals Ted and April’s true intentions or motivations behind abducting James. At one point Brigsby Bear almost gets there but it stops because James’ character is not interested in those things. We learn what James wants to learn, we go where James goes. He isn’t really interested in his captor’s motives (probably because he has not been able to mentally mature properly), and he still sees them as good people. Of course, the process of creating the Brigsby Bear Movie is an attempt at processing his trauma and coming to terms with his life now, but fortunately the film doesn’t push this too much. Brigsby Bear is light hearted, and succeeds because it doesn’t delve too deeply into James’ experience.

We are left with a sort of surreal, strange yet emotionally savvy film, which also fits very comfortably into the comedy genre. Honestly, t’s just a really, really lovely film with a stellar cast and a ethereal soundtrack. I can’t wait for the Brigsby Bear TV series.  

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