This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Dave McCary
Flashback to the fifth grade: I’m filming my friend with my Dad’s video camera. It’s as nice of a day as Florida summers can be and our only time limit is the setting sun. Yes, the plot doesn’t make any sense, the characters are some puzzling mixture of a clown and an insane manchild, and it’s certain to be 20 minutes too long when it’s finished, but at the end of the day, none of this matters…
…we’re having fun.
For many of us weird, creative types, the excitement of creation and its celebration is what emboldens us to pursue careers and projects that will, to some extent, permit us to capture that golden, entirely indescribable feeling of cooperative, imaginative bliss. Add the possibility that work made right can reach people from all different backgrounds, and you have the beauty of filmmaking. *Steps down from soap box* This review isn’t about why I find meaning in my work, but it’s important to note that this same meaning permeates so many parts of what BRIGSBY BEAR is.
Therefore, this film’s lasting message resonates deeply within my soul: get your friends together, have a blast, and be creative. Unsurprisingly, the film comes from two very close groups of friends, the eccentric minds and resources of popular YouTube sketch group GoodNeighborStuff, most of whom met in the eighth grade, and The Lonely Island, who produced the film. These groups remain success stories of creative friends and collaborators that worked hard and utilized their innate talent to propel themselves into the pantheon of SNL, Sundance, and now, theater chains. But all of BRISBY BEAR’s strengths double as some of its greatest shortcomings, as the importance the film places on creativity and teamwork overshadows the need to address some deeper and darker issues that it posits. Even so, director Dave McCary’s audacious debut remains so damn admirable in its celebration of collaboration and creativity, one consistently gets the feeling that the key creatives behind the movie, who were all friends growing up, felt like bigger kids with bigger tools and a bigger voice.
“Why are you wearing that silly man suit?” – Brigsby
BRIGSBY BEAR stars Kyle Mooney as James, an absolutely obsessed fan of a low-budget TV show of the same name. James goes far beyond merely watching the show, living, breathing, and literally sleeping Brigsby Bear under his Brigsby covers. Admittedly, this is not by choice, but through the manipulations of his captors Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams). For they kidnapped James as a baby, live in an underground bunker, and produce the show as a twisted teaching aid for James’s stunted development. Suddenly, and in an earth-shattering event for James, he is rescued by the FBI and reunited with his long-lost Dad, Mom, and sister (Matt Walsh, Mikaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins). Despite the genuine love and excitement that his parents have for him, James can’t help but ask, “Where’s the next Brigsby tape”? It is at this point that James must choose between moving on and staying in the artificial castle of fandom that he’s been surrounded by for so many years.
Instead of turning to a much darker exploration on what captivity and isolation can do to a human, the movie has James utilize creativity as a coping mechanism. He attends a party with his sister and meets her friendly filmmaker friend Spence (George Lindeborg Jr.). Awkward chaos ensues, but ultimately results in the discovery of a creative kindred spirit in Spence. A match made in heaven, the two are blissfully inspired by one another’s know-how and enthusiasm. It just so happens that the movie is a direct, fictional version of the confusion that James’s life has become. His family and therapist, Emily (Claire Danes), grow increasingly concerned that his new foray into filmmaking will only worsen his transition into reality. And rightly so; Brigsby is creepy, and weird, and constantly reminds his family of James’s lost childhood. Yet, what they fail to understand is that while Brigsby was so much of James’s dark, old world, it becomes the only lens through which to interpret his new one.
NO, they DIDN’T actually go to space in order to film this
About halfway through the film, James sits with Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear), the detective on his case. After James tells him about his movie, Vogel gives a sad smile, an impassioned soliloquy, and finally confesses that he once loved acting, but, “People grow up and do different things.” In his consistently honest and genuinely naive manner, James tells him, “It’s sad that you can’t do what you love.” Here the film presents what’s really at stake: the loss of creativity and the cultivation of artistic passion. Ultimately, the story is from James’s perspective, and can be forgiven in many ways for failing to address its darker implications. Albeit tragic, James is a pure soul. He laughs, trusts, and confusingly interacts with others. BRIGSBY BEAR avoids delving into its darker aspects because they stray away from the film’s main point: the intense belief in creativity that James embodies.
So don’t be surprised when BRIGSBY BEAR doesn’t address all parts of psychological trauma; it is, after all, a fantasy world. Which is unfortunate, because wouldn’t we all like to live as James, surrounded by our friends and family, creating and loving each other, back in our days of youth when imagination came as easily as closing your eyes and taking a breath? And perhaps in a time when, more so than ever, things feel confusing and complicated, it’s refreshing to see a film that celebrates rather than criticizes, while genuinely making one feel like imagination is the solution to our happiness. For creating a world where this seems more than possible, BRIGSBY BEAR is worth a watch.