Brigsby Bear

12/12/17

Once in a while, a movie comes along that is fresh and original enough to make it stand out from the herd. Brigsby Bear is one such movie – a charming allegory about the importance of childhood and the awful wrench we inevitably feel when we must finally leave it behind. It’s also funny and quirky and its delicious sense of invention keeps me hooked to the final frame.

James (Kyle Mooney, who also co-wrote the screenplay) is a twenty six year old, living in an underground bunker with his parents, Ted (Mark Hamil) and April (Jane Adams). Outside, he’s been told, there’s a nuclear wasteland where he dare not venture without wearing a respirator, so he passes his time watching episodes of a shonky children’s serial, recorded on VHS tapes, featuring a character called Brigsby Bear. The episodes arrive at regular intervals and the walls of James’ room are lined with hundreds of copies. But one day, police cars arrive at the bunker, sirens wailing. James is taken away and Ted and April are arrested. It’s down to Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) to break the alarming truth to James. Ted and April are not his real parents. He was abducted many years ago and the whole bunker/nuclear holocaust thing is an elaborate construct to keep him safely out of the public eye. Whats more, his real parents, Greg (Matt Walsh) and Louise (Michaela Watkins) are just dying to be reunited with him. Oh, yes, and one other thing – he also has a younger sister, Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins).

James does his level best to integrate with his new family, but something very important is missing from his life. Of course, he’s keen to see the latest episode of Brigsby, but it turns out, this too is just another part of Ted and April’s scheme to keep their abducted ‘son’ occupied. Ted has been filming the series himself, episode-by-episode, inventing a whole universe of characters to keep it going. The problem is, James cannot abandon something that means to much to him, even though psychologist, Emily (Claire Danes) urges him to move on with his life and put away childish things. But James is determined that the series must be completed at all costs and in the absence of anyone else to undertake the job, he decides he will do it himself…

It may sound a little outlandish when set out so matter-of-factly, but it’s done with absolute conviction. James’ awkward interactions with Aubrey’s friends are astutely realised, funny but also endearing – ‘Would you like a beer?’ ‘Yes, I’ll have one of that.’ Also, the way James charms other characters through his naive interplay with them is another lovely element. (The bit where Detective Vogel admits he used to do a bit of acting is a particular delight.) I enjoy the hokey (not so) special effects and the fact that James’ abductors are not portrayed as weird and evil characters, but as people who are mostly motivated by love. Uniquely, here is a film that has no real villain – unless you count Sun Snatcher, the chief baddie from the Brigsby Bear adventures.

This film may not be to everyone’s taste, but in my honest opinion, it’s one of the most original slices of cinema I’ve seen in quite a while and well worth seeking out.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

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