|Directed by||Dave McCary|
|Story by||Kyle Mooney|
|Music by||David Wingo|
|Edited by||Jacob Craycroft|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Classics|
Brigsby Bear is a 2017 American comedy film directed by Dave McCary in his feature directorial debut, starring Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Andy Samberg, Matt Walsh, and Michaela Watkins. The film depicts a captive man named James (Mooney) who is rescued from an underground bunker where he obsessed over a children's television program titled Brigsby Bear Adventures. When he realizes the show was created by his captor, his fascination leads him to finish the storyline himself.
The film was inspired by McCary, Mooney, and Kevin Costello's middle school experiences making short films together, with a story stemming from Mooney's fascination with 1980s children's shows. Principal photography took place in Utah during Mooney and McCary's break from working on Saturday Night Live in 2016.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2017, and was theatrically released by Sony Pictures Classics on July 28. Upon release, Brigsby Bear received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised the script, direction, cast, and art design, and also commended the film's sentimental tone.
James is forced to live in an underground bunker with his parents Ted and April Mitchum. While Ted tells James that the outside world is dangerous, he often is seen by James leaving the bunker with a gas mask on. James is fascinated with an educational children's show titled Brigsby Bear because he owns every episode on VHS Tape and fills his room with memorabilia. One night, he sneaks out only to see several police cars approach the home. The police raid the bunker and James is taken away from Ted and April, who are arrested.
James is brought to the police station and meets Detective Vogel, who tells James that Ted and April are not his real parents and that he has been held captive since he was a baby. Vogel then introduces James to his real parents, Greg and Louise Pope, and their teenage daughter, Aubrey. Though they try introducing James to his new life, he can't stop thinking about Brigsby Bear. James' psychologist Emily informs James that Brigsby Bear is not real and was made by Ted, a former artist, and designer who disappeared with his wife in 1987. Emily explains that they tracked Ted from the studio where the show was made. Realizing that no one else will continue the story, James come up with the idea to make a movie based on the character to close the series.
One night, Aubrey takes James to a party. He meets Aubrey's friend Spencer and later starts talking about Brigsby Bear to his new friends. He starts production after Vogel, who sympathizes with James through Vogel's own early acting dreams, lends James some props from the show, and Spencer, being a filmmaker, agrees to make the movie with him. Spencer also advertises the movie by uploading episodes of Brigsby Bear to YouTube, where it gains popularity and a new audience. Greg and Louise do not approve of James' activities because they fear it hinders his chances of living a normal life.
While filming in a forest, James uses an explosive he made for a scene that detonates, surprising Spencer. The group is arrested, but James takes the blame for it. The police release him but confiscate the Brigsby Bear props once again. James takes his parents' car out one night to steal the costumes and props. He takes a detour first to his old underground home, now abandoned and cordoned off with yellow tape. James stops by a diner and discovers Whitney, the actress who played both Arielle and Nina Smiles in the show. She tells him that she never knew the true circumstances behind the side acting job, having been told by Ted Mitchum that it was for Canadian public access. As the police arrive outside, James asks Whitney to reprise her role for his film and admits that he had a longtime crush on her through the show.
James is placed in a mental institution. Meanwhile, Aubrey shows her parents parts of the movie, where the two realize that making the movie allowed him to spend time with his friends. One night, James breaks out of the institution to grab his belongings, but discovers his family, along with Spencer and Vogel, building a Brigsby Bear set in their garage. They tell him that after they saw how happy he was behind the scenes, they agree to help out as well.
James finishes the movie, with Vogel playing the character Feldo Mortese and Whitney as the Smiles Sisters. Then visits Ted in jail who apologizes for abducting him. James actually tells Ted about the movie and states that they are having trouble getting the voices right. Ted helps him out by recording the voice-overs for Brigsby and the other characters.
On premiere night, the show is sold out and James is worried no one will like it, so he stays out of the theatre while the movie plays. When James walks into the theater, he is met with a standing ovation. James is happy that the film is a success. He looks over to the stage and sees Brigsby wave goodbye to him and disappears.
- Kyle Mooney as James Pope
- Claire Danes as Emily
- Mark Hamill as Ted Mitchum
- Greg Kinnear as Detective Vogel
- Andy Samberg as Eric
- Matt Walsh as Greg Pope
- Michaela Watkins as Louise Pope
- Ryan Simpkins as Aubrey Pope
- Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Spencer
- Beck Bennett as Deputy Bander
- Alexa Demie as Merideth
- Chance Crimin as Logan
- Kate Lyn Sheil as Whitney
- Kiera Milan Hendricks as Young Smiles Sisters
- Jane Adams as April Mitchum
- Tim Heidecker as Coach Brad
- Nick Rutherford as excited man
Brigsby Bear was co-written by Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello, and directed by Dave McCary in his feature directorial debut. All three grew up in San Diego, California and attended middle school together. Mooney and McCary, alongside Beck Bennett and Nick Rutherford, later formed the sketch group Good Neighbor, and all joined the cast and crew of Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 2013. Mooney and Costello wrote the film over a two-to-three-year period. Much of the character of James comes from Mooney's personal life, which he considered obsessive, sometimes awkward, and always nostalgic. Whenever Costello and Mooney could write together, they would write fast and messy, with Costello polishing it while Mooney worked at SNL. Mooney was fascinated by children's television shows from the 1980s, which he felt combined "happy-go-lucky and positive meets the creepy, weird, and psychedelic." He and McCary both singled out Prayer Bear as a primary inspiration. Mooney collects VHS tapes from garage sales, which also fueled the film's aesthetic.
Their positions at SNL allowed them to cast their film with big names such as Mark Hamill, who plays Ted. McCary likened Ted's character to a depraved Jim Henson, "teaching weird lessons about the world in a loving way." He noted he and Costello both grew up in strict, Christian households, which colored the way they depicted the character. They hoped to have viewers intrigued by the retro nature of the bunker, which they infused with a "low-rent Splash Mountain" feel. McCary was largely responsible for the film's earnest and sometimes melancholy tone, which he felt serviced James's emotional journey in the film. For McCary, he had always hoped to direct something dramatic, as opposed to his more comedic material in the past. Part of James's journey in the film, including his fear that people would not enjoy his film, came from a genuine place for the three filmmakers. In addition, when making the film, the three discovered that in many ways, they were documenting their friendship of creating videos together.
The film was shot in mid-2016 in Utah during Mooney and McCary's break from SNL due to the geography. The Utah Film Commission put out a press release in June 2016 announcing that six films had been granted incentives to film in the state, including Brigsby Bear. They shot the film with a small, close-knit group and likened the experience to summer camp. After shooting the film, McCary had to complete editing while still working at SNL.
The film premiered at the Eccles Theatre at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2017. Shortly after, Sony Pictures Classics (SPC) acquired distribution rights to the film for $5 million, which was far higher than the film's budget. The team behind the film were happy working with SPC, noting that they wanted no edits made to the film and were on the same page regarding keeping the film's plot line a secret in marketing. In doing so by only advertising the first 15 minutes of the film, Mooney said they "always wanted it to be somewhat mysterious", while McCary said he was not "excited about the prospect of people going to this movie being a step ahead".
After having a panel at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con, the film's formal premiere was in New York on July 26, 2017, beginning its theatrical run on July 28. The film was released on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital Download on November 14, 2017.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, which categorizes reviews only as positive or negative, 82% of 166 reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "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." According to the review aggregator Metacritic, which sampled 35 reviews and calculated a weighted average of 67 out of 100, Brigsby Bear received "generally favorable reviews".
Manohla Dargis from The New York Times summarized it as a "sweet and sometimes delightful melancholic story of a lonely man saved by imagination and love. That sounds like a bushel of cornball and might have devolved into pure ick if the director, Dave McCary, didn't lead from the heart and wasn't adept at navigating seemingly clashing tones." John DeFore at The Hollywood Reporter found it to be "a charming, surprisingly underplayed paean to pop-culture obsession." Geoff Berkshire of Variety praised every aspect of the film from its cast to script, but singled out the art department's successful presentation of "the Brigsby show and the underground bunker where James grew up." Vulture's Emily Yoshida analyzed it as "asking much trickier questions than it would ever let on about the coddling effect of media and geek obsession, and the purging effect of storytelling."
Stephanie Merry from The Washington Post perceived the film's genuine tone as fresh: "[The film] never ventures into the caustic simply for the sake of comedy. These days, that's refreshing. There aren't many movies that value sweetness over cynicism." Conversely, David Sims of The Atlantic felt the movie ends up too "blandly optimistic," but felt it would not work another way: "It's hard to fault Mooney and Costello for choosing the sweeter path—the movie is, after all, told through James's eyes, and he has only the dimmest awareness of the wrongs that have been done to him over the years." The Boston Globe's Tom Russo surmised "the [sincere] approach can be a reach, but on the whole it works better than you might guess." Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty considered it a "slight, handcrafted indie that's sweet, skewed, and feels a bit like a skit stretched out to feature length." David Ehrlich at IndieWire felt it veered into formula, concluding, "While too silly and open hearted to hate, Brigsby Bear begins with a premise that's weird enough to be good, but settles for a weak trajectory that isn't good enough to be weird." A.A. Dowd at The A.V. Club felt it could have been a "soulful fairy tale," but ended up "a quirky sitcom recovery fable about transforming our childhoods through art to overcome them." Leslie Felperin, writing for The Guardian, deemed it "overly whimsical," but also "likable enough, even if it contains precious few belly laughs."
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