Brigsy Bear demands tears and laughs, gets neither

Before each showing of “Brigsby Bear”, Circle Cinema has included a brief introduction by Oklahoma native Kevin Costello, who cowrote the film. In it, Kevin makes it clear that this is a bit of a passion project, a work so quirky and unique that he’s not only surprised it was made, he’s practically embarrassed to have others watch it. Having seen the film itself, I understand both sentiments entirely.
“Brigsby Bear” is remarkably unique. The film opens with James Pope, an immature twenty-six year old, obsessively watching a children’s show. This show within the movie, the fictional ‘Brigsby Bear,’, follows the adventures of an animatronic bear and his magical accomplices against the relentless Sun-snatcher. James is unabashedly infatuated with this narrative: his only friends are anonymous accounts on an online “Brigsby Bear” forum, all of his clothes are stitched with the show’s icons, and the closest thing he has to a romantic interest is Arielle Smile, one of the magical twin girls who accompany Brigsby Bear.
All understandable, since his life is limited to a bunker inhabited only by himself and his parents, who equip gas masks each time they need to brave the otherwise ‘toxic’ air. He does not leave the bunker regularly, only sneaking out occasionally to stargaze. Not twenty minutes into the film, change arrives in the form of the police, who rescue James from his captivity. Very quickly James is told he was abducted as a child from his actual parents, that the air is not toxic and, among a great many other things, that the show he knew and loved was in fact made by his captors.
It’s amazing that the first act of the film requires so much text in its summary when the rest is so simple: Pope struggles with adjusting to his new life and instead devotes himself to finishing the tale of “Brigsby Bear” in a homemade movie.
In the transition from his bunker to real life, I realized this was going to be a ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy of sorts. I can’t really conjure up any other films in that category which I remember greatly appreciating, but if one such existed, I can only think that the ‘fish’ at its center must be a likable, or at least greatly entertaining character to watch on screen. James Pope, unfortunately, is not.
His complicated past should justify to a great extent his strange immaturity, but still I found myself more irritated by some of his quirks than I was amused or even sympathetic. From his first moments outside the bunker, ballooning his cheeks so as to avoid the toxic air, to his cringe-worthy minglings with his sister’s friends, I never found him all that pitiable. Kyle Mooney, who plays James Pope and wrote the film with Kevin Costello, might be largely to blame, for both his roles.
The movie has no scenes that moved me much at all; it often dissolves dramatic tension for the sake of comedy, and portrays what is in reality a pretty tragic existence as a dark comedy. This approach would’ve been fine with me — none of the drama of this movie could’ve done a much better job than “Room,” which covered similar ground in terms of its themes of captivity and its effects — if much of the film had been funny, rather than just simply quirky.
“Brigsby Bear” has a shortage of likable characters. Much of this stems from the supposed likability of much of the supporting cast, especially those college-aged characters, unfortunately, who are written so desperately to be liked that I couldn’t help but feel the exact opposite towards them.
The only performances that really stuck out to me in this film were those of Greg Kinnear, playing the lead detective on James’ case, and Mark Hamill, as the man who produced “Brigsby Bear” and pretended to be James’ father for so many years. Kinnear does an impressive job making his character likable, even when he’s making mistakes, but seeing Hamill was my main motivation for seeing this film at all.
Naive of me, I now realize, for thinking he’d be in so much of the film as he was the trailer. All in all, Hamill gets a screen time a fraction of what his character deserved. I appreciate Hamill’s extensive career as a voice-actor; nonetheless I maintain hopes of seeing him apply his acting talents on the screen, not just behind it, beyond Luke Skywalker.
It’s a shame to have written so negatively about such an original film, especially when the big screen these days is so crowded with generic superhero sequels. However, just as a well-made but thoroughly unoriginal film deserves criticism, so too does a wholly unique film with a few flaws that do much to subtract from its quality. Here those flaws are, to me, the total lack of any real emotional impact; I did not really root for James Pope or any of his friends. If ever I did hope to see his speedy recovery, it might just be that I was exhausted of seeing James Pope’s struggle otherwise.

Post Author: Trenton Gibbons

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