Theatrical release poster
|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-drama film directed by Dave McCary in his feature debut, and produced by The Lonely Island. The film stars Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Ryan Simpkins. Mooney and friend Kevin Costello penned the screenplay, which revolves around James Pope (Mooney), a man obsessed with a children's television program titled Brigsby Bear Adventures. When the series abruptly ends, Pope's life changes forever as he sets out to finish the storyline himself. To do that, he must learn how to cope with the realities of a new world that he knows nothing about.
Mooney, McCary and Costello all met in middle school and grew up making short films together. With a story stemming from Mooney's fascination with 1980s children's TV, principal photography took place in Utah during Mooney and McCary's break from working on Saturday Night Live. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2017, and was released on July 28, 2017 by Sony Pictures Classics to positive reviews from film critics, who mostly commended its optimistic and sentimental tone.
James lives in an underground home with his parents Ted and April Mitchum. Forced to stay underground by his parents, James' only connection with the outside world is an educational children's show called Brigsby Bear. James is obsessed with the show, owning every episode on VHS Tape, and filling most of his room with memorabilia. One night, while sneaking out to hang out on the roof, James sees several police cars approach the home and is taken away from Ted and April, who are arrested.
James is then brought to the police station and meets Detective Vogel, who has been working on James' case. Vogel informs James that Ted and April are not his real parents, and that he has been held captive ever since he was a baby. He also informs James that Brigsby Bear is not real, and was entirely made up by the Mitchums, with Vogel explaining that they tracked Ted from the studio where the show is made. Vogel then introduces James to his real parents, Greg and Louise Pope, and their teenage daughter Aubrey. As they try to introduce James to his new life, he cannot stop thinking about Brigsby Bear not being real.
One night, Aubrey takes James to a party. He then starts talking about Brigsby Bear to his new friends and comes up with the idea to make a movie based on the character to close the series. Spencer, Aubrey's friend who is also a filmmaker, agrees to make the movie with him. After Detective Vogel lends James the props from the show, he begins to make his movie. Spencer also starts uploading episodes of Brigsby Bear to YouTube, where it becomes a smash hit, generating a new audience to the show and buzz for the movie. Greg and Louise do not approve of James' activities, as they fear it hinders his chances of living a normal life.
While filming in the forest, James uses an explosive he made that detonates and causes a small fire, surprising Spencer. The group is arrested but James takes the blame for it. The police let him go, but they confiscate the Brigsby Bear costumes and props once again. Determined to continue production, James takes one of his parent's cars out one night, intending to steal back the costumes and props. He takes a detour first to his old underground home, now abandoned and cordoned off with yellow tape. On his way back, James stops by a diner. There he discovers Whitney, the actress who played Arielle and Nina Smiles in the show, just finishing her shift. She tells him how her dual performance was achieved with special effects and 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 to take him back, James asks Whitney to reprise her dual role for his film and admits that he developed a longtime crush on her through the show.
Following a recommendation from Emily, the family's psychiatrist, James is placed in a mental institution. Meanwhile, Aubrey shows her parents parts of the movie, where the two realize that making the movie has been making James happy and has been helping him live a normal life. One night James breaks out of the institution to return home and grab some belongings but discovers his family, along with Spencer and Detective Vogel, building a Brigsby Bear set in their garage and tell him after seeing how happy he is making the movie, they have agreed to help out as well.
James later visits Ted, who is now in jail (along with April) for the kidnapping. James tells Ted about the movie and how it is missing the most crucial part; the Brigsby voice. Ted agrees to record the voice of Brigsby and James finishes the movie (with Detective Vogel fulfilling his early acting dreams by playing a character and Whitney reprising her dual role as the Smiles sisters). On premiere night, the show is sold out and James is worried that no one will like it and stays out of the theatre while the movie plays. When James walks back into the room, he is met with a standing ovation. Happy that the film is a success, James looks over to the stage, he sees Brigsby wave goodbye and disappear.
- Kyle Mooney as James Pope
- Mark Hamill as Ted Mitchum
- Greg Kinnear as Detective Vogel
- Matt Walsh as Greg Pope
- Michaela Watkins as Louise Pope
- Ryan Simpkins as Aubrey Pope
- Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Spencer
- Claire Danes as Emily
- Beck Bennett as Deputy Bander
- Alexa Demie as Merideth
- Chance Crimin as Logan
- Andy Samberg as Eric
- Kate Lyn Sheil as Whitney / "Arielle and Nina Smiles"
- Kiera Milan Hendricks as Young Smiles Sisters
- Jane Adams as April Mitchum
- Tim Heidecker as Actor in film
- Nick Rutherford as Brigsby Bear fan
Brigsby Bear was co-written by Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello, and directed by Dave McCary. 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 2013–14. 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 movie's aesthetic.
Their pedigree at SNL allowed them to cast their film with big names like 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 Mooney 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 will not enjoy his film, came from a genuine place for the filmmakers. In addition, when making the film, the filmmakers 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. 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 acquired distribution rights to the film for $5 million, which was far higher than the film's budget. The team behind the film were very happy working with Sony Pictures Classics, 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. The film's formal premiere was in New York on July 26, 2017 and was started its theatrical run on July 28, 2017. The film was released on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download on November 14, 2017.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 81% based on 140 reviews, with an average rating of 6.7/10. 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." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 68 out of 100, based on 35 reviews, indicating "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 and designers involved in creating both the world 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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- Felperin, Leslie (May 25, 2017). "Brigsby Bear review – The Truman Show meets Room in overly whimsical comedy". The Guardian. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
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