As a comedy about a young nerdy man who faces a sudden big change in his life and then attempts to handle that change via what he has been obsessed with for many years, “Brigsby Bear” is as whimsical as expected, but it is also a little too slight in terms of story and characters. Although I was amused by some of its humorous moments, I could not help but notice how superficial it feels as adamantly trying to be as optimistic as its naïve hero, and that was a major detraction for me besides a number of other weak points to notice.
In the beginning, we are introduced to a tacky educational children’s show named “Brigsby Bear”, and director Dave McCary has a fun with its old-fashioned aspects. As silly and corny as what I watched from TV during my childhood years, the show looks all the more hilarious as presented via old VHS footage, and I must confess that I became nostalgic as appreciating authentic technical details such as low video and audio quality.
Since he was very young, James (Kyle Mooney) has been a big fan of Brigsby Bear, and his small private room shows how much he has been devoted to the show as your average nerdy fanboy. As reflected by the shelves full of VHS copies, he has watched and recorded nearly every episode of the show, and he surely memorizes every important moment in the show such as when his bear hero defeats his arch-nemesis with a magic crystal and saves the day again.
As watching his following scenes with his parents Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams), we come to see that Brigsby Bear has been one of a few pleasures in his solitary life with his parents. They have lived together in an underground shelter located somewhere in a remote area, and James has been a good son to Ted and April, who seem to be protecting James from the outside world which, according to them, has been too hazardous for him due to some air pollution.
On one day, James’ world is turned upside down. A bunch of police officers come upon the shelter and then promptly arrest Ted and April, and James comes to learn of a shocking truth about Ted and April shortly after he is taken to a nearby police station. As a matter of fact, they are not his biological parents, and they actually stole him from a hospital when he was a little baby. Thanks to the tenacious efforts of Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear), Ted and April could be eventually tracked down, and now Vogel is ready to send James back to his real parents Greg (Matt Walsh) and Louise (Michaela Watkins), who are certainly overjoyed to regain their lost son.
As beginning to live with his real parents and his younger sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), James naturally feels quite awkward, so he tries to get some comfort from Brigsby Bear, but, alas, it turns out that Brigsby Bear was one of many lies from his fake parents. Just for his fake son, Ted made every episode of the show at a make-shift studio not so far from their shelter, and he and April even made a fake version of Internet to convince James further that the show is real and has been watched by many people out there.
As a consequence, James becomes depressed for a while, but then a new possibility dawns upon him. While he is at a party along with Aubrey, he comes across a boy named Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), and, as a fellow fanboy, Spencer becomes very interested in Brigsby Bear when James tells him a bit about Brigsby. He later shows James how easy it is to make movies these days, and that is how James comes to decide to make a movie which will bring the fitting ending to Brigsby Bear.
While his real parents and his psychiatrist are not so sure about whether this attempt of his is good for his adjustment process, James is quite determined about his modest but ambitious project, and you may sort of admire his sincere efforts. Although he does not have any professional knowledge, he reads several books on filmmaking first, and then he diligently works on the screenplay while also making the storyboard for his movie.
And he is helped a lot by Spencer and several other supporting characters including Vogel. After generously letting James use some of confiscated show props including that big bear costume, Vogel finds himself more getting involved in James’ movie production, and there is a small funny scene where he revives his old aspiration in front of the camera.
Of course, the circumstance becomes more serious during its last act, but the screenplay by Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello somehow fails to generate enough emotional depth to engage us, and it is also hampered by thin characterization and contrived narrative. Most of supporting characters in the film are more or less than plot devices to be manipulated as demanded, and it is disappointing to see that notable performers like Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, and Claire Danes being under-utilized without many things to do, though it is a hoot to see Hamill doing something a lot different from Luke Skywalker.
Anyway, “Brigsby Bear” is not entirely without good things to enjoy. As the comic center of the film, Mooney did a fairly good job of balancing his character well between humor and pathos, and I was entertained to some degree by his endearing quirky performance. The movie is a bit too whimsical for me on the whole, but it is not boring at least, and I think some of you may like it more than me.