Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Brigsby Bear” (2017)

Written by and starring Kyle Mooney, Brigsby Bear begins in an underground bunker of sorts, where James Pope (Mooney) lives with Ted and April (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) and has an obsession with a low budget VHS show called “Brigsby Bear”, an educational children’s programme about the adventures of a brave bear who fights the evil Sunsnatcher alongside two young twin sisters and others. But when circumstances result in James leaving the bunker, put back into the real world, reunited with his real family, he learns that no one else has even heard of his beloved TV show and goes about making it into a movie, alongside his newfound friends and family.

With all the inescapable reboots, sequels, remakes and prequels that are floating around at the moment, it’s so refreshing to see such an original film once in a while and Brigsby Bear is most certainly fresh, unique and different, though it definitely has a Room vibe about it (he even goes back to his “prison” later on in the film) and could even be compared to 10 Cloverfield Lane (the opening scenes) and perhaps even Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, considering the moviemaking scenes and the overall theme of friendship and family. The film has a perfectly balanced tone because it’s very funny when it needs to be, it has a couple of serious moments which make you think, and it’s overall very moving, genuine and warm, never veering off into sugarsweet schmaltz or mawkishness – a very admirable quality in a film because it would be all to easy for it to lose its way and just become cloying, forcing the emotions out of its audience. Brigsby Bear is also odd, weird and quirky but not overly so – the filmmakers understand the material and recognise that they don’t have to make it weird just for the sake of being weird; the odd nature of the film isn’t shoved in your face and its peculiarity is endearing and genuine.

Alongside the original story and all the perfectly judged jokes, so many of which hit the mark brilliantly, Brigsby Bear has a great little cast and all of the performances are genuine – the cast believe in the material and their warmth is a great asset to the feature. In the leading role (I’m pretty sure he’s in EVERY scene), Kyle Mooney is brilliant as James Pope, truly becoming the character and never making it seem like just a performance; it’s so easy to side with him throughout as he is very likeable, he delivers the one-liners with impeccable timing and his character’s commitment to making his film, as well as his willingness to sacrifice himself for his friends, standing up for the good that he believes in, is wonderful to watch. He never goes overboard with the whole “seeing the world through alien eyes” bit, because that’s not what this film is truly about, and he is fundamentally human – a charming protagonist who we can effortlessly support.

Supporting him, the great Mark Hamill gives as a most unique character as the father figure who created Brigsby Bear, Hamill once again proving that he’s an imaginative voice actor (though the character is ultimately too nice and too likable, considering the crime that he’s guilty of), Greg Kinnear gets to show a lighter side of himself, throwing himself into the gentle comedy as the supportive detective, and House of Cards‘ Kate Lyn Sheil also puts in an appearance as the TV show’s former child actor, unaware of what it was being used for. And a major role is played by Jorge Lendeborg Jr.; as Spencer, the young man who essentially becomes James’ best friend, helping a great deal in getting the film made, he is a warm and supportive presence and it’s a great example of the best friend role done just right. Ryan Simpkins also plays James’ sister and it’s great that she got to be in a properly good film this year after being short-changed as the daughter of The House, released earlier this year.

My only negative points would be nitpicks really but I’d say that the film is maybe TOO nice, if that’s even a problem, and I was perhaps expecting a little more from the story – a shock or some conflict which threatens to derail the whole film. Personally, I was always expecting James to do something that’s frowned upon in normal society, since he’s unaware of how the real world works, and that would throw his life and familial relationships into disarray. But of course, it isn’t that kind of film and Brigsby Bear forges its own path and stays original and lighthearted. Andy Samberg also has too little to do and his character should have been given far more screen time and development as he ended up being slightly superfluous to the plot, even though he managed to work wonders with his very limited appearance.

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A warm and funny film about the magic of moviemaking, family and friendship that’s genuinely moving without ever being manipulative or schmaltzy.

★ ★ ★ ★

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