Director: Dave McCary
3311 Productions/Sony Pictures Classics
Brigsby Bear is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. Let’s start right there, like this. Because I don’t want to spoil the magic of the film – instead I want to talk about what it meant to me, how it made me feel, what it reminded me of…sure, okay, I’ll give a quick bit of plot along the way, but I don’t want to just riff around that.
Kyle Mooney, best known for his work on Saturday Night Live – mostly in odd, charming short films and vignettes – created the story here and is the lead, James. He’s grown up obsessed with Brigsby Bear – he’s collected hundreds of tapes, the show rolling out ad infinitum, there are dozens of seasons, nearly 1000 episodes. He watched, re-watches, writes and talks about it. And nothing is odd to James about this – he has grown up with Brigsby, he lives his life through it; the show and character allow him to feel the way he does about the world around him, and keeping any sort of handle on what is essentially a pop-culture obsession is how James keeps control, or a handle on his own life.
Mooney regularly riffs on the lost, staggering man-child geek in his SNL work, he subverts pop-culture obsessions, parodies them, all the while paying tribute. So his Brigsby Bear creation – and his response to it (as James) is not far from his regular pay check work. Same too for director Dave McCary. This is his first feature film but he’s one of the segment producers for SNL and he and Mooney regularly create strange, baffling worlds and comment on the alienation and fascination around pop-cultural artefacts.
What they aren’t always able to do – with 2-3 minutes, as part of a longer show – is convey the true heart and humanity of the situation, touch on the real feelings. That’s where their work on SNL can seem snide or smug, the payoff is needed. And right away. Or if it drifts off into opacity that’s the only payoff for a weekly skit. But here we see how James relates to other characters through his obsession, how earnestness is its own reward.
As James struggles to find himself in the real world, or to even find the world real, he returns to the world of Brigsby; decides it’s for him to end the story, to shoot a film where Brigsby finally triumphs, definitively, over the evil Sun Snatcher. It’s his emotional cuddly, his blanket, but – oddly – it’s also his way in. His enthusiasm, more than that, his belief, is so infectious that the other real-life film characters he meet find a way in – a way to relate to him, to help him.
Poignant, moving, funny, quirky, Brigsby Bear might pinch a bit of Be Kind Rewind’s love for amateur filmmaking, a bit here and there for other films too – fish out of water stories, odes to strange friendships – but it is ultimately like no other movie. It is a love-letter to the strange passions and obsessions that drive many of us, it is non-judgemental, it is strangely validating, a huge thumb in the air, a fist-pump even. But key to its success is that it’s heart-breaking, there’s a tragedy here within and around the humility. That is how and why Brigsby succeeds. I found it profoundly moving – love-letter to my own childhood, a widow into further understanding the world of my own child.