Brigsby Bear is many things, but it is also not many things. Brigsby Bear isn’t a cuddly kids flick. Brigsby Bear isn’t an episode of Doctor Who writ large, although our titular bear does appear to be a bizarre mixture of a time lord with the snuggle appeal of Barney the Dinosaur.
If you could see Brigsby Bear like I did without knowing a single thing about the film, that would be a divine cinema experience. Brigsby Bear is reverse loaded. The spoilers are all in the first half-reel. So, just stop reading right now and go see the film as a virgin!
Too late, here is the opening act that sets up the movie. A 25-year-old man lives with his parents in an off-the-grid house with its own generator that shuts off with a computer voice advising lights out. Home schooled and quite proficient in math, James (Kyle Mooney in nebbish mode) has never met another person outside his family (played with affection and intellect by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams as Ted and April Mitchum). Every week, James faithfully watches the latest VHS installment of Brigsby Bear. James appears on Saturday Night Live and the film was written and directed by SNL alum Dave McCary.
One night, dozens of police raid the Mitchum property, arrest mom and dad and put James in protective care. Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear playing both a tough cop and a want-to-be-actor) best puts it when he tells James that he was abducted as a child, has been part of some unsanctioned child development experiment, and will shortly meet his real parents.
The twist of the narrative takes you by surprise. You literally have no idea what will happen next. What follows both amuses and confounds the viewer as you follow James’ introduction to the world, as it exists. For instance, James has never drunk a Coke, and his reaction is priceless. Perhaps not oddly, the same scene occurs in The Dark Tower with Idris Elba imbibing the carbonated sugar liquid.
James meets actual people within his sister’s coterie at a party, although his awkward introduction to sex at the same party cements his growth as a man. When his sister finds out he’s been intimate with one of her friends, she’s disgusted. “You’re so old, you’re twenty-five.”
James never really accepts his new parents with their to-do-list of bonding activities. Instead he weirdly — and it’s very weird — identifies with his captors, even going so far as to visit Ted in prison.
James reacts with shock when he realizes that Ted created Brigsby Bear each week in a private television studio. However, with his new teen buddies James shares the videotapes, which coincidentally go viral when his “brah” posts episodes online.
The next thing you know, James has obtained the police evidence that include Brigsby’s costume. And with the help of his new millennial friends, he begins a do-it-yourself film version that continues Brigsby Bear’s continuing adventures across space and time.
Brigsby Bear may not have the ending you want, but it definitely has the beginning that blows you away.
Brigsby Bear is currently unwinding at the AMC Dine-In Houston 8 and the Edwards Grand Palace.