Imagine being stuck in a bunker for 25 years and your only point of pop culture reference was a bad TV show.
A fish out of water in every sense, James (Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney) is thrust upon our brave and very strange new world, having only ever known the mother (Jane Adams) and father (a patently underutilized Mark Hamill) who raised him and introduced James to Brigsby Bear, of which he was gifted a new, poorly-staged episode every week.
Speaking to our collective fascination with pop culture through the bizarrely extreme investment James has in his favourite and only show, those hoping for thematic developments akin to Brigsby Bear’s more dramatic counterparts, i.e. Room, will be disappointed. Skirting the heavier plot turns you might expect in such a premise and disposing of some of the more realistic expectations, demonstrated no less by Claire Danes’ counsellor appearing when and only when the story needs to move forward; if you’re looking for a faithful account of what James’ subsistence might actually entail, you clearly don’t know Lonely Island.
With members of the much-loved comedy troupe behind the feature that closed Cannes Critics Week, including Andy Samberg in a fleeting role because why not, the crew may appear to treat the novel premise blithely (the inclusion of stock-stand if hilarious filmic parodies you would duly expect no doubt a fixture), however Brigsby Bear actually succeeds as a deceptively clever take on just how much creative output, often dismissed by those James encounters as inconsequential, can fairly and dramatically affect the lives of so many.
Most intriguing of all is James who manages to do just about the opposite of what every character, and the audience to boot, will likely expect. Ripping away presumptions of the good, bad, right and wrong of exposure to any and all creative mediums, the realisation of just what Brigsby Bear is and how much it means to James is not devastating for the reasons we may first jump to, but the acknowledgement of just how much of what we know and love is so for its being shared and part of a collective experience.
Among the best of the film’s additions, Greg Kinnear’s Detective and failed actor intent on realising his dreams befriends James in the process, with Kinnear excelling in a role that deftly balances his comedic and dramatic chops. A scene where he is reciting long-remembered Shakespeare, played for laughs, if you venture only ever so slightly beneath the surface bears such a greater impact that resonates powerfully from the film’s central figure and so many of its sequences.
James’ later actions where he takes a decidedly more active role in the invention that is the titular anthropomorph, together with Brigsby Bear’s penultimate moments, built up consummately throughout only for expectations to be gloriously turned on their heads, speak to so much of the significance films and the like have to so many, this one being a roundly appropriate addition to any of the most recent Film Festivals that have been fortunate enough to screen it.
Packing an extra morsel for the fans among us of Hamill’s much lauded recent work to thoroughly enjoy, Brigsby Bear is a cathartic experience for any creative, filmmaker or anyone for that matter who will gladly seek out a treasure amongst a crop of new features to remind themselves exactly why we keep going back to the cinema.
Brigsby Bear is currently screening at the Sydney Film Festival