An Unexpected Tale That is Good Medicine for the Heart!
Director: Dave McCary/2017
One of the most interesting and hopeful films that has come out in 2017 comes from a couple of lifelong friends who have grown up since 5th grade together, and found themselves passionately pursuing their love of filmmaking at USC, but also landing on Saturday Night Live together. Now they have a chance to make their passion project together, and that film is Brigsby Bear.
Dave McCary (director) and Kyle Mooney (Actor, Writer) seek to capture the love we all used to have for our favorite childhood show and use that to infuse the film’s audience with the idea that we can all begin to dream again, hope again, and create something tangible that is best shared in the loving arms of a community of family and friends. What is even more amazing is that they do all of this within the framework of a very dark tale, that never feels like the darkness is closing in. They ground every frame in an intentional realism given what the story is truly about, but find subtle ways to let their brand of light, defeat whatever darkness might exist, just like the character of Brigsby Bear who never gives up, no matter what.
Brigsby Bear teaches us that the best lessons we learned in life, we learned as children. If we are truly going to impact our world for the better, we need to re-discover that person we were when we lived to watch and learn from our favorite television shows, and become those people again.
Brigsby Bear tells the story of James Pope (Mooney), a 25-year old man who everyday does his chores and his studies before popping in his favorite VHS tapes of his favorite childhood show, Brigsby Bear. In the show James watches, Brigsby is a large Teddy Ruxspin-esque bear who along with the Smile Sisters seek to defeat the evil and villianous Sun Snatcher. Through over 700 episodes, James has fallen deeply in love with the character, the stories, and the lessons that it teaches. In all of these episodes, not once has Brigsby been able to defeat the Sun Snatcher (a character that seems to pay tribute to the late great George Méliès), but he still keeps trying, never giving up.
James sleeps on Brigsby sheets, and has posters of Brigsby’s “lessons” that say things on the posters like “Curiosity is an unnatural emotion”. His parents, Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams) Mitchum discuss Brigsby’s world with James at dinner, even chanting a catch-phrase as their version of saying “Grace” at mealtime. James caps it all off by recording his thoughts on various episodes of Brigsby Bear, and the larger implications he has discovered through watching them all and finding new layers, and then posts it to the internet where he also reads fans comments. This is his community. Everything is going well, until it all comes crashing down around him.
James and his parents live in a bunker and never go outside. He will occasionally reference certain types of animals with names you’ve never heard about, or the need to have to wear an oxygen mask if anyone were to leave the bunker, as reasons for why they must stay inside the bunker, but we never truly know why they are there. The bunker has been the place that James has known his whole life, and through it all, Brigsby, his hero, has been right there along the way. The fact that James gets to share this love of Brigsby with others via the internet only adds to the passion he demonstrates towards this show.
Much of the obsession over this bear is used throughout the film to comment on, and even pay tribute to the super-fans of various television shows, comic book heroes, or other characters in our culture. Having Mark Hamill, a man who knows a thing or two about obsessive fans from his involvement in the Star Wars franchise, as well as his well received voice work on series like Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, only adds to the layers that this film touches upon. Look for clues, tributes, and the like in every scene, including the names of the characters, and their actions, inside the fictional television world of Bigsby Bear. It will only add to the experience later.
Without wanting to give away the main premise of the movie (which you’ll learn in the first 5-10 minutes of the film), I’ll just say that through the trials that James faces, he will discover a world that is much bigger than the one he has known, and will have the opportunity to participate in the Brigsby story directly.
Along with Mooney, another childhood friend, named Kevin Costello helped to write the screenplay. As a first-time screenwriter, Costello, along with Mooney are able to create an authenticity to the story and dialogue that never allows this premise to go off the rails or become the huge mess it could have been given that the premise of the film is that a 25-year old man, who still lives at home and is obsessed with an animatronic bear who is constantly trying to save the universe, can be a rich and rewarding experience for those who see it.
The aspect of being a “fan” of anything creative, and obsessing about it, and devoting his life to it, would come off like the overly obsessive Star Trek fans, as depicted in a William Shatner skit on SNL, if the script was written by lesser writers. Instead, they are able to craft a moving, and emotionally effecting story of an extreme outcast finding his place in his own universe and overcoming some high hurdles along the way.
The cast of Brigsby Bear is very strong with supporting roles from Greg Kinnear, Claire Danes, Andy Samburg, Ryan Simpkins, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, and Alexa Demie. The film is produced by The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, along with Adam Sandburg, and a host of others. It is obvious that this passion project by two friends who grew up together, has found a way to attract all kinds of support and talent to this film, and craft a story that begs a cynical and skeptical world to open up to the ideas of creativity and possibility, and learn to dream again.
As we age, we tend to distance ourselves from everything we used to be, when we believed that anything was possible. Brigsby Bear teaches us that the best lessons we learned in life, we learned as children. If we are truly going to impact our world for the better, we need to re-discover that person we were, when we passionately lived to watch and learn from our favorite television shows, and become those people again. Go see Brigsby Bear, and learn to dream again!