Brigsby Bear (2017)
Critic Consensus: Audiences attuned to Brigsby Bear's strange frequency will be moved by its earnest -- and endearingly original -- approach to pop culture's impact and the creative urge.
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Critic Reviews for Brigsby Bear
"Brigsby Bear" is a funny, oddly touching look at the pros and cons of millennials' tendency to obsess over pop culture.
"Brigsby Bear" is the kind of movie Kyle Mooney would make fun of on "Saturday Night Live."
A movie about storytelling that succeeds by keeping its focus on the storyteller.
Despite its lofty aim and a cast including Greg Kinnear, Claire Danes and Mark Hamill, sugary-sweet "Brigsby Bear" feels as if it was made by and for well-meaning lightweights.
The approach can be a reach, but on the whole it works better than you might guess.
Audience Reviews for Brigsby Bear
This is possibly the most unusual film I've seen all year. In a way it's an homage to fandom, creativity and nostalgic call backs in the ever changing nature of one's life. At first I thought it was an unusual world set up by unusual people, only for the main character to then experience a 'Fish out of the Water' scenario, which outdoes Diana Prince's walk into the world of men. Except here, we have a young man who'd been fed a faux kids TV show exclusively produced for no one else, even when trying to adjust to the modern standards of living does he find it in himself to unleash his creative potential. The film's story is overall, an endearing, entertaining and truly outlandish and unique concept that work within it's overarching themes of defining one's place in the world, their creative outlook and what really inspires them. Though at it's heart is it's surrealism able to encapsulate the imagination of all audiences, I even though the cast was superb in their role especially from those not as well known as others. I can't highly recommend this film enough than I already have, it's ability to keep a small spectacle but a larger than life concept is exception and should be experienced one way or another.
I know that tastes can't change overnight, but it's a shame that audiences can't gravitate more to movies like this. Films like this are very rare, due to the fact that they'll hardly ever snag a major release by a large studio. Not to compare the two, but last year's release of Swiss Army Man was so unique and weird that I ate it up, and I felt the exact same way about this year's Brigsby Bear, which could very well end up being my absolute favorite film of the year. Unique films are a breath of fresh air, but not all of them are great, because the stories themselves may not explore enough to truly warrant award recognition. Although Brigsby Bear won't be winning any major awards this season, here is why it's a wonderful piece of cinema in my eyes. From first-time feature film writer Kyle Mooney and direct time feature film director Dave McCary, Brigsby Bear follows James Pope, a young man with a backstory that I can't reveal throughout this review, who has only ever seen one television show, called Brigsby Bear. When there aren't any more episodes coming out, he sets out on a mission with a few others to finish the show themselves. Becoming a filmmaker, gaining new friends, and learning many moving and comedic life lessons, this is a story worth showcasing to a very large audience. Unique, weird, and powerful all at once, this movie is elevated by a wonderfully sincere and comedic performance by Kyle Mooney as the lead. It's very rare that a comedian can be simultaneously funny and dramatic at the same time, making it truly seem that this is a real-world scenario unfolding on-screen. Not only did this story feel authentic to me, but it touched me on a personal level in terms of how there would definitely be people like this if certain situations were to present themselves to the world. Mooney is an actor that I believe many people should keep an eye on. Sure, his YouTube career is where he started and he's most known for his role on Saturday Night Live, but he's one of those rare performers that I believe will break out and become very famous in years to come. I truly believe that this is a flawless film for the story it's trying to convey. No film is perfect, but a film can be done perfectly when looked at a certain way, and I believe film lovers and even filmmakers themselves will be the ones who love this film the most. Original ideas are slim to none throughout mainstream media nowadays, but I dare you to come up with a premise like this throughout the past ten years. Yes, there are always similarities in every story, but when a film can surprise you even in its first act, it's something special. In the end, Brigsby Bear is a perfect little indie film for fans of cinema, well-written, well-directed, calmly scored with care, and wrapped in a nice little bow of uniqueness. I found myself wanting to rewatch this movie the second it concluded. Although short and to the point at a mere 97 minutes, there are many hidden elements that will elevate the movie even more upon second and third viewings. I'm sure the fact that it's so weird will turn some audiences away from fully enjoying it, but like I said, hardcore film lovers and filmmakers of any kind are truly the ones that will most likely love Brigsby Bear. This is easily one of the best films I've seen all year.
One way to stand out in a crowded marketplace is to differentiate your movie by making it weird and whimsical. Just being different can grab your attention, and Brigsby Bear and Dave Made a Maze are definitely different. Both of these indie films attracted attention for their unusual concepts and lo-fi designs, banking on a sense of nostalgia for a homemade style of art that's a little rough around the edges. These might be two of the strangest films that will be released in 2017. James (Saturday Night Live's Kyle Mooney) is living underground with his parents, April (Jane Adams) and Ted (Mark Hamil). He does his homework, listens to his parents about never going outside, and anxiously waits every new episode of Brigsby Bear, a children's fantasy TV show starring a Teddy Ruxbin-looking bear that teaches life lessons. Eventually we discover that April and Ted are not, in fact, James' parents. They abducted him when he was a baby. The FBI raids their compound and returns James to his biological family, the Popes (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins as mom and dad, Ryan Simpkins as younger sis). James just wants to know when the next episode of Brigsby will come out. Unfortunately for James, Brigsby isn't real. Ted produced the show on a nearby sound stage. He'd even occasionally hire other actors. James is the world's most knowledgeable fan of a TV show no other person knows one iota about. He's determined to give it a proper ending and recruits family, friends, and neighbors to make the ultimate Brigsby movie. I was pleasantly surprised at how effectively Brigsby Bear was at being cheery and sincere. I was expecting, given the premise, an ironic riff on nerd culture or obsessive fandom, and Mooney and company instead decided to play things very seriously. They take a fantastic premise that seems begging for derisive commentary and choose to find a human story within the absurd. That's much more commendable and harder to achieve. As I'm aging, I'm becoming more and more appreciative of sincerity over irony (part of this is also that our modern age is inundated with irony). I was reminded of last year's Swiss Army Man, an alarmingly strange movie with Harry Potter's farting corpse and went for sincerity without any whiff of detached irony. Brigsby Bear isn't at the same level of artistic accomplishment and lasting power as Swiss Army Man, but it's an unconventional and touching movie that earns its quirky-yet-feel-good emotions. It's easy to see where this story could have exclusively dwelt in psychological darkness. James was abducted as a child and raised in a strange environment that makes him emotionally stunted and grossly ill prepared for the real world outside his reclusive safe space. The movie could have understandably dealt with James' crippling sense of loneliness, betrayal, and inability to assimilate since his sense of self were cultivated by a fake children's TV show. He could have easily been the creepy oddball who makes people uncomfortable. Instead, they made him the goofy oddball who makes people smile. His childlike sense of wonder is in tact and frees him from self-doubt. James is remarkably cheery for having his world turned upside down, and the movie follows his lead. This movie could have been another perplexing Dogtooth and instead it's more accurately reminiscent of those old Mickey Rooney "we're putting on a show" pictures. I was waiting for a moment of artificial conflict, a darker plot turn late into the film where perhaps it's revealed that Ted was a molester. There's 700 episodes of Brigsby Bear so I figured a few of them would reveal disturbing clues about something even worse. The film never does take that darker turn and instead stays upbeat to the very end. As he adjusts to his new home, the movie serves as both a delayed coming-of-age movie and a love letter to the power of creativity and how it can build community. With James transported into the outside world, much is made over his awkwardness with human interactions and his complete lack of guile. He gets his first kiss with a girl, and shortly after his first handjob, and wonders if that means they have to get married. It's a sweetly naïve reflection. We watch the growing pains of James as he starts to make friends and become more confident in himself, which is a surefire way to win over an audience. James isn't held up for ridicule. People want to be part of his project. He's overcoming adversity and triumphing through the transformative power of art. There's a joy in watching characters find themselves anew, and James serves as the catalyst. This person knows how to do special effects. This person used to act when they were in college. In his heartfelt attempt to provide closure to the Brigsby series, and possibly a chapter in his life, James' project takes on a life of its own that brings people together. It shows how the community of art can be an empowering venture that can freely inspire the best in others. The movie doesn't become overly reliant upon nostalgia either. I figured it would be an ode to 80s television and culture but it really just uses that as backdrop. The world building of the show of Brigsby is bizarre and entertaining every time it's included, especially when you comprehend the propaganda messages that Ted is sneaking in like, "Curiosity is an unnatural emotion." The sense of wonder and whimsy doesn't overwhelm the movie and its poignancy. Director Dave McCary (Saturday Night Live) makes the most of the retro pastiches while still serving the story. James could just have easily been obsessed with any show or ongoing work of art. The content of the show is unimportant. It's about facilitating his growth into a person comfortable and confident with whom they are. By the end of the film, I was fighting back tears as the full assembly of characters watches the finished product of their labor. You watch them smile, laugh, take a sense of pride in their communal efforts, and they can see the world as James does. It's a whole-heartedly pleasurable movie with surprising currents of emotional uplift. Whimsy is a fleeting feeling that's hard to conceive and harder to hold onto. Both movies take whimsical premises that cater to the peculiar but only one delivers something of lasting substance. Brigsby Bear is a charming, heartfelt, and exceedingly sincere movie about an oddball finding his place in the world through the power of the creative process. He is transformed through his love of art and how that serves as the foundation for community. Whereas Dave Made a Maze is a lo-fi curio that I can admire more than enjoy. It's missing crucial elements that make its journey worth the effort, beside its imaginative and scrappy production design. Both movies are charged by the power of the imagination to transport the ordinary into the extraordinary. Brigsby remembers to use its flights of imagination and whimsy to tell an engaging and ultimately touching story. Dave Made a Maze has cool sets and some infectious silliness. If you see one story of a man-child escaping into a world of nostalgic imagination and inviting friends to tag along, make it Brigsby, a film that uses whimsy to still tell compelling human stories. Nate's Grades: A-
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