Brigsby Bear, directed by Dave McCary, traverses a number of tones that end up causing a confusing feeling experience that at times is difficult to find a connection with. There is sincerity in the creativity within this film and there are moments that fill your heart with uplifting feelings. But there are also times where I sat with a furrowed brow, trying to understand what the intention of the scenes were and what type of film Brigsby Bear was trying to be. I shifted between liking this film and struggling to understand it, which made for a watching experience in which I never felt settled. I think (hope) breaking down how this film operates will help me figure out how I truly felt about it. So let’s get to it.
James Pope – played by Kyle Mooney – lives in a bunker with his mother, April Mitchum – played by Jane Adams – and his father, Ted Mitchum – played by Mark Hamill – and has since he was a baby. His days are primarily spent watching a children’s TV show called Brigsby Bear Adventures – a show he has become obsessed with. However, James is soon taken away by the authorities and we quickly learn he’s been living with the people who kidnapped him as a baby and not his parents. James has to acclimate himself to the real world and his real family the only way he knows how: by both relying on the comfort that Brigsby Bear brings him, and also finishing Brigsby’s story.
The script that Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney wrote is certainly bustling with creativity. The entire fictional TV show that they created, and all the wonderfully goofy names and lore are rich in smile inducing moments. The trouble is that they seemed unable to then bring it into the real world in a way that seemed natural.
The main character; James Pope, is the definition of a fish out of water. He’s lived his entire life in a bunker with his parents watching a TV show that was specifically made for him. It makes total sense that he not know how to properly act in society. But strangely, everyone else who has lived in the real world doesn’t ever act like they have. It was pretty early on that I began to notice that there was a struggle to convincingly strike a balance between the two in the writing, and it was a problem that was persistent until the end.
The problem lies within how the director and the writers seemed to try to approach their plot. The oddball nature of both James and his favourite TV show, Brigsby Bear, do not mesh with the straight face tone of the real world. It feels like two different films interacting at times. Now, I understand that is to show the dichotomy between James and the real world, but the real world doesn’t ever feel like it’s being naturally utilised. Situations play out and people react / act in ways that feel similar to everyday life, and then other times they occur in ways that feel completely unnatural and drifting far away from reality. Now it could be said that we’re experiencing the world through the lens of James, thus things are supposed to feel off. If that is the case, then it didn’t work for me. It only made for a continually off-balance experience.
But for the most part there seemed to be a clear understanding by the writers and the director of how to portray James and his situation, while there didn’t seem to be an understanding of how to convincingly make it blend into the real world. You had teenagers acting and talking like how older people think they act and talk. Characters accepting situations or things that were to out there for their acceptance to feel natural. And cliché conflicts or moments of drama would often be resolved in ways that was too convenient to feel believable. For example: when James and his sister, Aubrey – played by Ryan Simpkins – go from having no brother, sister relationship, to being best of friends in the span of one scene. It was a film that seemed to change the rules of how people interacted and responded to things, to whatever the scene needed at that time. Again, making for an experience that I never felt I could get a handle on.
For me, this was a film that more than often felt confused as to what tone to stick with and then how to properly navigate it. I at times couldn’t settle into the film and was trying my best to understand what type of experience the creators of the film were trying to go for. But other times I would find myself completely enamoured with the sincerity and creativity of the film. What I realised was: it was when James and his friends (who in no way were believable as his friends) would disappear into the world of Brigsby Bear, that the film was at its best. The childlike imagination of the TV show and the uplifting feeling of watching a group of people get excited about utilising their creativity to make something they were passionate about; put a smile on my face. It made me care for the characters on-screen and made me wish for more of it.
So don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the selection of characters on offer. James – though odd – was endearing. He was pure at heart and that purity made me want to see him succeed. He’s also surrounded me some supportive and caring people – though I did find a number of the characters to be a little too conveniently nice and helpful. But they all do play a part in a film that is positive in its messages and doesn’t take a cynical approach to James’ situation. I only wish there was more consistency in how it presented its themes and ideas. It was a film that I wanted to love.
You see, I wish I could have turned off the critical aspect of my brain and let the expansive wonder of this film take over. In fact, what I would say is: if you’re able to suspend your disbelief and look past the tonal mess that this film can sometimes be (like I wish I could have) then there is a special film in there somewhere – one full of boundless sincerity and silliness.
Unfortunately though, I wasn’t able too. I tried to find the rhythm of this film and enjoy it. I tried to let the love and attention that clearly went into this film be what guided me through it, but I simply couldn’t. It would always put something before me that would knock me out of the experience. Something that was unnatural or weirdly out of touch, and I’d have to try to find my way back into the film through the few avenues that brought enjoyment to me.
This leaves me in a difficult place because I don’t know where I should come down on this film. I personally was left disappointed by my time with it. The journey I thought I was going on was not the one I got, and when the credits rolled, I looked on dissatisfied. But I’m also aware that I’m probably in the minority with my opinions. There is a film here that many will enjoy and have a good time with. One that they’ll be uplifted by and not ever notice the problems that nagged me. So again: I’m unsure of what to do…
Despite my disappointment, I don’t feel bad about recommending, Brigsby Bear. Like I said: there’s definitely a film here that many will enjoy. And I also have to commend Dave McCrary, Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney for their wonderous creativity. I hope you find enjoyment in this film, and I also hope my recommendation of it doesn’t steer you wrong.
I’m really interested to know what you thought of Brigsby Bear – especially because of the difficulties I personally had with it. So leave your thoughts in the comments section down below. Also, I would really appreciate it if you were to consider following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. But I’ll stop asking things of you now and instead bring my review to a close by saying thank you to you for taking the time to read me review. I hoped you liked it enough that I’ll see you back here again.