"Brigsby Bear" takes the safe way out
“Brigsby Bear” plays like a cautionary tale for what happens when a writer falls in love with a character. I don’t mean in a romantic way, to be clear, but in a I can’t let anything bad happen to this character sort of way. Maybe that’s not entirely fair to the writing debut from Kyle Mooney, who also stars as James in what probably should be one of the best films of 2017, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s true.
The film, and this isn’t a spoiler because it happens in the first 10 minutes, centers on Mooney’s James, who quickly discovers his existence is a lie. He’s lived the last 25 years of his life in an underground bunker with two people who are not his parents watching a television show made especially for him. “The Adventures of Brigsby Bear” plays like a public access show you’ve seen before, but weirder, darker and packed with, uh, life lessons. I guess.
When James is busted out of this bunker by the FBI 10 minutes into the movie and returned to his real family, the film really should start tackling something. There are dozens of directions for Mooney to take this character, but the film remains far too nice for its own good. There’s no frying pan, no fire, really, for James to go through. If there’s really a villain in “Brigsby Bear,” its not James’ captors, its his real family, who seem remarkably unsympathetic to the fact their son was locked in a bunker for 25 years and forced to watch a show with a knock-off Chuck-E-Cheese character.
Even that plotline is remarkably unexplored throughout the film’s 100-minute runtime. That’s baffling given some of the names attached to the film. Phil Lord and Chris Miller produced, SNL’s Dave McCary directed, and the not-afraid-to-do-something Andy Samberg also grabbed a producer credit. With all these names attached, it’s stunning that “Brigsby Bear” remains as quaint and nostalgic as it does.
In spite of that, it’s not a bad film. Its earnestness keeps it from greatness, but it remains charming on the back of Mooney’s performance. “Brigsby Bear” becomes a film about making the most out of a tough situation, and the joy of creating something with a makeshift family. If that’s supposed to be some sort of meta-commentary on the group of filmmakers who put the movie together, I suppose I’ll take it. That’s not the bold, great movie this could have been, but it’s the charming movie “Brigsby Bear” is. So be it.