I unexpectedly took to Brigsby Bear. A lot. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of Kyle Mooney on Saturday Night Live, I was rather surprised at how lovely his performance was here. No gimmicks or unbearable quirks. Just a strong understanding of his character and circumstances. James Pope begins the film as a fanatically obsessed viewer of the titular children’s show, a low-budget analog curiosity about an animatronic bear in a sci-fi world of powerful crystals and the villainous Sunsnatcher, who looks like a relic from a Georges Méliès silent. James’s life also seems a bit otherworldly: he lives in a bunker and must wear a gas mask when he ventures outdoors, and every night at a certain time, the generator goes down. One night, however, the police arrest his parents and take him away. It turns out that the people he believed were his parents had abducted him years before; his real family is a normal middle-class couple with a teenage daughter, living in relative comfort and eager to integrate James into their fold. The only problem: James’ obsession with Brigsby Bear is all-consuming, even though his captor father produced it only for him and no one else knows what it is.
The film makes no bones about its sweetness, and I guess some will find the abduction angle too glossed over for its own good. In this case, however, I don’t think it needs to be treated darkly. I see this film more as an allegory about social outcasts who have difficulty going out in the world and developing meaningful relationships. The show Brigsby Bear represents that one differentiating factor that can alienate people from a large subsection of the world, and the beauty of the film proper is how this factor comes to be bridged by sheer goodness. The moment when James realises that he has a friend in Spencer after he agrees to film James’s Brigsby movie is the moment where this interpretation clicked for me, and just that dopey smile on Mooney’s face made my eyes well up with tears. It’s the moment when a largely misunderstood person is finally given the time of day by someone who wants to reach out. As someone who has oftentimes felt like a James in my life, such grace notes felt like little parcels of hope and optimism being delivered expressly for me.
To say, then, that I connected deeply with this film is an understatement. It’s one of those works where you will either really glom on to, or not understand, and I’m one of the former. It has the right mix of goofiness and heart, elevated by Mooney’s terrific performance and a delightful supporting cast of some of my favourite underrated actors (Greg Kinnear! Matt Walsh! Michaela Watkins!). For anyone who feels alone in this world, or who thinks their creative genius is being misplaced, Brigsby Bear is going to be the balsam you need to get through your worst days. I hope more people take a chance on it, and discover what a gorgeous little achievement it is.