“Brigsby Bear” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, but this film has yet to create a buzz. With its unique concept, comedic elements, and heart, it’s truly a wonder why. Flying under the critics’ radar, this endearing comedy is co-written by and stars Kyle Mooney as James, the child-abductee, now 25, having lived in total seclusion with his bizarre captors/parents, played by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams and is now reunited with his biological family. James’ entire knowledge base is exclusively based upon a television show…that only has has seen: Brigsby Bear making the transition to “normal” a bit more complicated. The life-sized puppet has taught James the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as a skewed viewpoint of life lessons. To say he is obsessed with Brigsby would be putting it mildly. James’ adjustment provides uproariously funny situations while tugging at your heartstrings and even brings up some common issues in parenting.
The very beginning of the film had me wonderfully perplexed. We see a young adult in his bedroom, surrounded by “super hero” decor watching a fantastical show. Now, it’s time for the parent talk…James is spending way too much time in front of the television and not devoting enough time to studies and solving world problems. Is he precocious? Does he refuse to grow up and get a real job? Are his parents frustrated with him or is this a post-apocolyptic era? These are the questions running through your mind until the FBI shows up and arrests the “parents” for kidnapping. This perplexing situation is stellar and sets the scene for the remainder of the film as James attempts to assimilate into this unfamiliar new world that in many ways is another planet to James.
The film presents an interesting premise. How would a 25 year-old adult who has been exposed to lies and sheltered from humanity and all outside stimulation and technology, adapt to our current world? This innocent young man, relying on what he has known for a quarter of a century, pieces together how to talk appropriately, respond, and interact, all the while clinging on to the one safety mechanism he has—Brigsby Bear and all that he has taught him. Brigsby is the core of his being. He does finds some comfort and understanding in the local police detective, Vogel (Greg Kinnear), who is able to see beneath the oddities of this young man and appreciate his situation. Meanwhile, James’ loving parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) attempt to make up for lost time and recreate all the activities they should have done together. James’ sister, Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), begrudgingly allows him to tag along to a party. Embarrassment isn’t even close to what she experiences, but like all teens, she’s worried more about herself than her new-found brother. James finds a connection with Spencer, a computer savvy creative teen, with whom James begins to assimilate using filmmaking as the tool. The premise of the film? You guessed it! Brigsby Bear.
This novel concept requires just the right cast to make the story not only credible, but fun. Mooney hits exactly the right notes in his portrayal of James with his awkwardly innocent expectations and reactions to peer pressure and his parents. The lack of his character’s stimulation and experience is at once believable given his simple yet nuanced performance. Watkins and Walsh are the doting parents and compliment one another, but it is Walsh’s comedic excellence that brings the “dad” role to a higher level. Integrating a therapist played by Clare Danes creates another element that gives the film that touch of believability it needs. This is exactly what responsible, caring, and confused parents would do. Mooney and Simpkins could easily be siblings, not necessarily because of their looks, but because of their ability to read and respond convincingly to one another. And Greg Kinnear appears to be thoroughly enjoying his role as the thespian police officer with a heart of gold. This small ensemble cast works together in harmony to provide viewers with a sweet and loving story that makes you laugh throughout every situation becoming a charmingly sweet and endearing story.
It’s an aboslute pleasure to watch this genuinely sweet and charming film given its heart unique storyline. Filled with humor and heart and a bit of silliness, “Brigsby Bear” allows you to escape into another world—or perhaps I should say “galaxy.”