Written by Saturday Night Live‘s Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello, Brigsby Bear is essentially a film about film, made for people who love film. James Pope (Mooney) was abducted as a child and, after decades of isolation, has to enter a world he never knew existed. Although the protagonist is suggested to be somewhere in his twenties, the film definitely has a coming-of-age feel to it; the only way James is able to make sense of this new “real world” is through ‘Brigsby Bear Adventures’—a TV show created by his captors. Despite its unsettling backdrop and opening sequence, the film has a beautiful sense of optimism and warmth to it, making it one of my favourites I’ve seen this year. Rather than directly exploring the trauma caused by his kidnapping, Brigsby Bear takes a unique approach, allowing audiences to appreciate the idea of home and safety as a thing or feeling—in this case a television show—rather than a physical space.
I personally found comfort in the nostalgic, quirky comedy; orange hues make me think of childhood photographs, the fictional ‘Sun Snatcher’ villain appears to resemble a comically evil version of the Teletubby sun, VHS tapes remind me of my tinier days. Upon first viewing, I was almost fooled into believing I’d seen the film as a kid. The childlike wonder of the protagonist, teamed with outdated costumes and use of synthesizer, emphasize this, allowing viewers to explore the world with curiosity alongside James, but also encouraging us to feel just as apprehensive (and excited) about the big, wide world as he is.
Mooney’s character is an awkward outsider, typically the prime target in coming-of-age stories, yet Brigsby Bear avoids the high school cliché, adding depth to the teens James encounters. The Pope siblings attend a party, evoking feelings of anxiety as audiences wait for something to go wrong—a team consisting of a clueless, naïve abductee and his edgy and embarrassed biological sister (Ryan Simpkins) seems as though it’s begging for trouble; however, the majority of those around him are cautious to include him, most notably Spencer (Jorge Lendeberg Jr.).
In a large number of films representing young people, the characters are often suggested to be selfish, social-status-obsessed and irrationally unkind. The characterisation of Spencer is heartwarming and refreshing, highlighting that young people can be popular and still be good; he’s an attractive and charismatic teenager concerned with inclusivity. He supports James and his dream of making a Brigsby movie, expressing his own passion and using technology positively—helping him edit, add special effects and use social media to generate a following for the film. The friendship between the two is built on creativity and collaboration and shows the power of art as a bonding tool.
The friendships and experiences of Mooney’s character are also reinforced through David Wingo’s stunning score; towards the beginning of the film Taken Away uses sustained synth sounds suggesting uneasiness beneath the melancholic piano melody, adding to the distress James feels during the scene. Acoustic guitar and piano melodies in compositions such as You’re My Friend are playful with the repetition, implying James’ growing feelings of safety and security as he becomes more comfortable in his new world. Finally, my personal favourite, The End, features a lonely piano melody playing the motif heard throughout the film—likely representing James. As the piece continues, support is offered from the left hand and an increased use of synth is uplifting, possibly alluding to the relationships the protagonist builds throughout; this continues with the dynamic also increasing before the melody finally rises in pitch, ending the film on a hopeful and heartfelt tone.
On the whole, Brigsby Bear is about being consumed by love, as many films are. The key difference—and what I would argue makes Dave McCary’s directorial debut so special—is that rather than this love being for a person, it’s for a piece of art and, as the protagonist develops, the process of filmmaking as an art. Tonally, it’s interesting, to say the least, dry humour certainly isn’t for everyone. Part of the story, and I do not mean the abducted child part, is very familiar; many of us, including myself, are guilty of binge-watching TV shows or forming obsessions with film and franchises—this is likely why the film worked so well for me. I empathize with James and his great love for Brigsby, I appreciate how much the TV show gave him—family, friends, purpose… I can understand his overwhelming need to build his own creation out of his admiration for the original work, because it’s how this film made me feel.