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Friday, April 12, 2024

Movie Review of “Brigsby Bear”: Lessons from a Plush Bear and Master Comedian


A bear to remind us of what makes us who we are

Co-written and starred by Kyle Mooney himself, dramedy “Brigsby Bear” demonstrates Mooney’s cinematic and creative genius. Expanding beyond his early YouTube days of Good Neighbor Stuff (which launched his career) and current place on Saturday Night Live, Mooney finds a coexistence of humor and sentimentality — a balance not often mastered by comedians or filmmakers. Mooney proves himself beyond a goofy yet skilled comedian, a media craftsman willing to explore underlying sentiments that impact each of us on a personal level. Through “Brigsby Bear,” Mooney comments on our personal realities and the idiosyncratic characteristics of it that make it special to each of us.  

The film starts with what would have been considered nostalgic if we grew up in the 1980s: a glitchy VCR taping of live-action plush characters in a fictional fantasy setting, low-quality neon graphics and a distinctive ‘80s, techy musical score. The film starts with a snippet of the fictional “Brigsby Bear Adventures,” the fake TV show that protagonist James Pope (played by Kyle Mooney) has spent his whole life watching. Brigsby Bear, however creepily endearing, means everything to James — and is the central artifact of the movie itself.  

James has spent his entire life watching “Brigsby Bear Adventures,” which turns out to have been made only for his viewing pleasure by his “parents” (who actually kidnapped him as an infant and have raised him in complete isolation). Brigsby was used by these kidnappers to brainwash James, and the bear would utter things intended to teach James how his pseudo-world runs and to convince him of its legitimacy. Quotes from the bear like “prophecy is meaningless, trust only your familial unit” and “curiosity is an unnatural emotion” cannot go unnoticed.

That isolated existence creates a reality that is far different from ours, complete with mannerisms and ideas only specific to James. James’s fundamentals — his social skills, his ability to decipher right from wrong — have been constructed by and centered around Brigsby. Brigsby Bear is the centerpiece of his reality.

It takes the rescue of James from his capturers to learn that the only world he’s known is a lie — or at least not part of ours. As James attempts to cope with the dynamics of the new world and his actual family, he sets out to write and film the last episode of “Brigsby Bear Adventures” — the only thing he knows is true. But not all that James learned from Brigsby was strange propaganda; a lesson from Brigsby to never give up is repeated multiple times by James. His filmmaking quest was therefore still an embodiment of his old reality.

Indeed, a testament to how different his reality is, the seriousness and sheer insanity of what happened to him cannot be fathomed by James, a dramatic irony that is almost uncomfortable to witness. His quest to finish his beloved series is a symbolic attempt to craft the world that directly molded him. Whether his finishing of “Brigsby Bear Adventures” terminates his long-held reality based on Brigsby or embeds it into ours is up to the discretion of the viewer. I am not even certain which it does; such ambiguity is what makes this film so masterful and spot-on with the point it is trying to make.  

The film feels like a paradox of emotions — as the viewer, you can’t help but feel a disgust for Brigsby as a character, yet somehow resonate with James’ love for the plush character. Meanwhile, in our reality, Brigsby Bear was used as a brainwashing tool to occupy James’s mind while living in his isolated commune; all the lessons and sentiments James has created during his 25 years of life have been based on this show. It’s disturbing, but simultaneously enchanting. It’s a comment on the various and differing realities that raise us; a statement that, while bizarre (and maybe not as extreme as James’s case), both realities can be full of love and personal meaning.

It has been a while since I have seen a movie as genuinely innovative as this, as close to authentic creativity. And while this movie may not be the hallmark of Mooney’s comedic career, the storyline, production, writing and depth of thinking are of high quality — easily making it one of the best movies I have seen this year.  

Your heart can’t help but feel a little warmer.


Written by: Caroline Rutten — arts@theaggie.org


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