Movie Review | Brigsby Bear
Movie Summary: Brigsby Bear Adventures is a children's TV show produced for an audience of one: James. When the show abruptly ends, James's life changes forever, and he sets out to finish the story himself. (IMDb)
I went into this film without having the slightest clue what it was about, so the opening in what seemed like a post-apocalyptic setting was a little odd until James, played by Kyle Mooney, is rescued by police, having been kidnapped as a baby and held captive for twenty-five years.
What follows is a story about this socially awkward man adapting to the real world and not the one he was deluded into believing, eventually attempting to make a movie to finish a TV series that his captor-father, played by Mark Hamill, created to keep him entertained over the years.
That all might seem like a fairly basic set-up and it actually is, but the real problem lies in the execution. While watching the film, I found myself caught up in what was going and thoroughly enjoying events as they unfolded.
However, nagging issues start to creep into attention as I think back on it and the whole thing just really falls apart. Brigsby Bear is essentially a fantasy story about a Utopian Earth where everyone always says and does the right thing regardless of whether it makes sense or not.
The film is so concerned with sending a positive, heart-warming message that it begins to feel false and like you’ve been tricked about what you’ve actually been watching. There are several points where, in reality, there would be major conflict between the people involved, but all of that is just swept aside to get to the happy ending.
As an example, the well-intentioned but still not quite okay James creates a legitimately dangerous explosive that frightens one of the friends he has made since joining the outside world and the pair are arrested, with Spence (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) angry with James for not telling him about the danger.
By the next scene, all is forgotten and the story continues onward without a mention of the incident. There are multiple points of conflict like this which be perfect for creating some drama or tension as to how the central narrative will play out, but the film never follows up on these possibilities.
Now this next bit is going to be a spoiler, although it again doesn’t prove to have any actual ramifications: James’ real family choose to have him committed because of what looks like a dangerous obsession with the fake Brigsby Bear TV show and the movie he’s trying to make.
In general, I’m against twisting simple things into something darker than they really are, but it’s actually far more believable and even rewarding to think that the rest of the film after James is taken away is simply nothing more than a delusional experience he is having.
Seriously, if you take the rest of the film with that viewpoint, it makes far more sense and seems far more realistic than what we see on screen. Again, it all feels very enjoyable while you’re watching it because it is a feel-good film that excels at getting that tone across.
There are any number of science-fiction, fantasy, horror, or other genre films that feel more realistic than Brigsby Bear, because the characters actually feel like real people. Here, it’s a highly-idealised world where everyone is positive, understanding, supportive and generally the best they can be – it’s a nice fantasy and if you buy into it, you’ll love this film, but the more I think about this film, the more annoyed I get and the more I feel like I’ve been deceived.
I will spoil one other scene here that also serves to highlight a real problem in this film that the consequence and drama-free tone quickly washes over: James’ sister Aubrey takes him to a party with her friends, where James drinks and does drugs – the first time he has ever done either.
Aubrey’s friend, Meredith, dances with James and takes him somewhere private before kissing him and even undoing his trousers and thrusting her hand inside to begin pleasuring him. During the scene, it’s made clear that James is clearly not of sound mind after the drink and drugs, while Meredith – apparently used to both – seems to know exactly what she’s doing.
This is sexual assault, plain and simple. James is clearly incapable of giving consent, is uncomfortable throughout and can only get Meredith to stop by moving away from her. Now imagine that sequence of events if the genders were flipped and a guy was forcing himself on a drunk and drugged woman – suddenly not such a nice tone to the film.
Brigsby Bear is ultimately a shallow fantasy that skips over some glaring issues to try and provide as positive an experience as possible; an approach that works for the film’s duration, but completely falls apart when thought about after it’s all over.