A love letter to childhood, creativity and film, Dave McCary's debut has plenty to take from it. It's as warm and as fuzzy as you might expect but some of its surprises give it a darker edge than most of its fellow indie comedies which it could have made a little more of.
If someone had told me in January that come December I would be reviewing a film with Mark Hamill in it, I probably would have had my lightsaber and robe at the ready. If that same someone had told me then that I, in fact, was going to be seeing a film called Brigsby Bear about a six-foot teddy who battles a talking moon, I probably would have taken that lightsaber and hit them with it. I definitely would have put it somewhere best unsaid if they’d then told me that it might actually end up being better. Yet here we are.
Brigsby Bear tells the story of James, a twenty-five year old man obsessed with a children’s television show which he is unaware is produced just for him. When it stops airing, his life completely transforms and he decides to complete the show himself. To say anything else would spoil many of the surprises that Dave McCary’s debut has in store.
Brigsby Bear is an indie-gem full of charm. Performed with lovable charisma by Kyle Mooney, James provides the film with its laughs and its heart. His childlike innocence offers the ideal perspective for the exploration of the film’s youthful joy. In the same manner as Be Kind Rewind, Son of Rambow or more recently Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Brigsby Bear is a celebration of friendship and filmmaking. Much like those films it uses the on-screen camera as a symbol of imagination and companionship and takes it to new places. Here the camera gives James access to a world which is alien to him both literally and metaphorically, creating a wonderfully sentimental ode to children’s tv and film.
As a result of this sentimentality, Brigsby fits into the ever-expanding category of nostalgia-porn, reveling in its looking back to childhood with a clear wish to return. Although, it is hard to see that as a negative here. Even though it makes consistent reference to times gone by and holds some similarities to the aforementioned films, McCary keeps things fairly original. It’s first fifteen minutes hold a significant surprise which immediately lets you know this isn’t exactly what you thought it might be. With this twist comes an underlying darkness to the film which separates it from many of its Sundance companions and keeps things interesting.
However, with such a heart-warming sentiment, some of the more interesting aspects of James’ story are very much overshadowed (or perhaps that should be over-lit) by the film’s lightness in tone. What is an incredibly intriguing set-up spirals out into a fairly straight-forward indie comedy about following your dreams, with only a few minor call-backs to the weightier subject matter at its core. It’s only a small complaint though which hardly takes away from a generally warm and passion-enthused film, made with such a childlike love and excitement that it makes it easy to forgive them for building the film around that rather than the drama.
Brigsby Bear may not be Star Wars, and it doesn’t need to be, but it may just be one of 2017’s indie gems. It’s a film made with a great deal of enthusiasm for both the form and what it represents and as a result it leaves you feeling as warm and fuzzy as Brigsby himself. It’s not perfect, but in the very wise words of James ‘It’s dope as shit!’
Brigsby Bear (2017), directed by Dave McCary, is distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures Releasing, certificate 15.