I didn’t come to the Cote d’Azur with any expectation of becoming a Brigsby Bear convert, but converted I now am. Last night I saw this gently comic tribute to geeky childhood obsessions at the Espace Miramar, and as much as I tend to resist if not despise this kind of thing Brigsby Bear has an emotional scheme and even a theology that adds up in the end. It didn’t make me overjoyed, but I felt genuine respect.
For this is a little film, made by three childhood pals (director Dave McCary, co-writer and star Kyle Mooney, co-writer Kevin Costello), that really believes in its own alchemy, and particularly in dorkiness, hip-pocket filmmaking, piles of VHS tapes, geek dreams and deliriously cheesy visual effects.
Brigsby Bear develops its own realm and attitude, but influence-wise is basically a mixture of Room, Michael Gondry‘s Be Kind Rewind, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and the twee sensibility of Wes Anderson (and particularly that of Moonrise Kingdom).
Sony Classics is opening Brigsby Bear stateside on 7.28. The costars are Mark Hamill, Claire Danes, Greg Kinnear, Andy Samberg, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins and SNL‘s Beck Bennett (i.e., Vladimir Putin).
Do I have to fucking recite the plot? Mooney’s James was kidnapped as an infant by a pair of creative-imaginative weirdo shut-ins (Hamill, Jane Adams). They raised him according to their own insular reality while diverting or brainwashing him with home-crafted episodes of “Brigsby Bear”, a kindly Smokey the Bear-type character invented by Hamill. At the tender age of 30 (older?), James is rescued by a Detective Vogel (Kinnear) and reunited with his real parents (Walsh, Watkins). He tries to adapt himself to the real world, but when he discovers that YouTube-y films can be made by anyone and be about anything, he decides to make a Brigsby Bear feature. Better to recreate what matters to him most in terms of core emotional values than adapt to the pitfalls of 21st Century normality.
Brigsby Bear espouses a belief in clinging to adolescent dreams and oddball weirdnesses as a way of keeping reality at bay. It doesn’t advance the idea that integrating into “normal” society is a particularly good thing — it insists, in fact, that normal realms are healthier, happier places for understanding and celebrating outsider sensibilities, and that feeding and sustaining obsessional realms is actually a recipe for emotional health. Or something like that.
Brigsby Bear isn’t about going for breakneck hilarity or building up a head of steam, but it does understand itself, and it sticks to that. It has a certain patch of ground that it proudly owns, and you either get that or you don’t. Again — I’m the farthest thing from a geek type or any kind of pre-indoctrinated member of the Brigsby Bear society, but I got this film. I went in with a guarded attitude, but I had a smile going by evening’s end.