BRIGSBY BEAR (9 out of 10) Directed by Dave McCary; Written by Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello; Starring Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh and Ryan Simpkins; Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug material and teen partying; Running time 100 minutes; In wide release Aug 18, 2017.
The first things to come to mind when thinking about the music group The Lonely Island are probably SNL Digital Shorts, raunchy comedies and parental advisory song lyrics. Having made a name for themselves doling out songs and movies that are meant to be both satirical and funny, I was expecting much more of the same with Brigsby Bear which they produced. The result was nowhere near this, as the film ends up being incredibly family friendly and has a beautiful story to tell.
Even though a somewhat obvious plot twists happens early in the proceedings, I’m going to keep the synopsis relatively barebones so as not to spoil anything for anyone who wants to experience it firsthand. What I can say is that it centers around 25-year-old James Pope (Kyle Mooney) who has grown up extremely sheltered with only one outlet for entertainment – Brigsby Bear Adventures – a kids’ after school type show that features an animatronic bear that teaches math, science and life lessons. As the show’s biggest fan, when it abruptly comes to an end, James takes it upon himself to learn the art of filmmaking so he and his friends and family can make a movie that will give the long running series the conclusion it deserves.
Yes, this does sound like the most bizarre plotline ever, and it kind of is. It takes a good 20 minutes or so to let the plot twist happen and have everything explained for it to start making sense. But once everything clicks, the most joyous and wonderful movie unfolds in front of your eyes.
Kyle Mooney nails the role of being a sheltered, lovable loser who is just trying to figure out where he fits in with society while all the while being a huge advocate for everything Brigsby Bear. The way his eyes light up when he’s regaling someone new with the adventures of Brigsby and his nemesis can’t help but make even the most hardened cynic smile. And unlike other films that have naive leads, this one never sets us up to laugh at him; no, we genuinely care about his wellbeing and hope that he can complete the movie and find his way through life.
It’s easy to tell that this was a passion project for all the actors, as each brings something unique and charming to their role. Greg Kinnear as Detective Vogel who must usher James into his new life but gradually warms to the stories of Brigsby Bear and wants to use his acting skills to help make the movie. Ryan Simpkins as James’ sister who starts out disliking this weird new person in her life who seems to be sabotaging her social life, but then eventually grows to accept him as the amazing, if quirky brother that he is. Even Mark Hamill shows up for a time in his Last Jedi look to play a very important role and do some fun voice work.
Filmed in Utah and premiering at Sundance, this was a gem that wasn’t really on anyone’s radar, but it deserves to be. The fact that the Lonely Island is attached shouldn’t deter anyone from taking their families to see this. Yes, there is some language and a small bit of innuendo, but this is easily one of the most family friendly films of the year. Brigsby Bear has the biggest heart of anything I’ve seen in a while, and shows us that coming of age can happen at any time and that following one’s passions and dreams will payoff. And the joy that utterly shines through is a great respite we all can use.
9 out of 10
‘Brigsby Bear’ Review