As hard as it may seem, traumatic experiences can be mined for comedic effect. You certainly wouldn’t think such a thing during the traumatic event, but in the aftermath there is always a chance to zero in on something darkly humorous, to the point that you find yourself laughing uncontrollably. Dave McCary’s Brigsby Bear attempts to find the humor in trauma, and it some cases it succeeds. Yet in the end, the film is frustrating for how little interest it has in going deeper. There’s a wealth of psychological material to explore here, but Brigsby Bear only scratches the surface.
James (Kyle Mooney) has grown up in a 10 Cloverfield Lane-like bunker, raised by his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) to believe the outside world is a radiated wasteland. James passes his time by watching his favorite TV show, Brigsby Bear, featuring a Teddy Ruxpin-like bear who embarks on strange intergalactic adventures.
James’ entire world is turned upside-down, however, when police raid the bunker, haul his parents away, and reveal a startling truth to him: the people he thought were his parents were actually his abductors, who kidnapped him as a child and raised him as their own. Now, James is returned home to his real parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) and sister (Ryan Simpkins). These people are strangers to James, and all of this is understandably strange to him. But even more strange is the revelation that there was no Brigsby Bear — instead, the show was something his abductors filmed themselves. Back in the real world, James struggles with things until an idea presents itself: he’ll make a Brigsby Bear movie, and make Brigsby a reality.
This set-up is solid, and Mooney is quite good as the spacey James, but once Brigsby Bear gets beyond it’s early scenes it begins to run out of steam. There simply isn’t enough here to flesh-out a feature length film, and the narrative suffers because of it. Still, there’s a lot to like, particularly the cast, including Greg Kinnear as a cop who just wants to be an actor. Yet there are nagging questions, too, particularly about James’ mental state. Brigsby Bear doesn’t really want to spend too much time thinking about that, though, and instead relies on montages to hurriedly rush past moments that would’ve been better off explored.
Still, it’s hard to entirely resist Brigsby Bear‘s charms. There’s an earnestness at work here, mixed with the sense of people getting together to do something they believe in. That’s the type of rewarding material that works its way into your heart and keeps you engaged. If only the script, by Mooney and Kevin Costello, were willing to go a little deeper. Perhaps that was never the plan; perhaps the people behind the film always believed that lighter was better. Brigsby Bear may end up leaving you wanting more, but you’ll be mostly satisfied with what little it gives.