"BRIGSBY BEAR" — 3 stars — Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill; not rated, probable PG-13 rating for language and sexual humor; Sundance Film Festival
Many families have a child who spends time and energy on something their parents deem unimportant or even harmful. Maybe the culprit is rap music, video games or Snapchat. Parents may yell, bribe or even punish their children to get them to stop the offending behavior. Instead, this film could make viewers think maybe parents should try and be part of their child’s world and validate the child's fascination by showing some interest.
As the film opens, viewers watch a cheesy VHS version of a live-action kids’ show about a superhero-type bear that resembles a knock-off Teletubbie/Teddy Ruxpin mashup. James (Kyle Mooney) is 25, lives with his parents and has memorized every detail of every episode. James has the bedspread, posters and hundreds of VHS tapes of this show lining his bedroom. But the bear’s weird morality lessons thrown into the stories like, “Curiosity is an unnatural emotion,” make one pause.
As James interacts with his parents, it is like watching a normal family of mom (Jane Adams), dad (Mark Hamill) and child. But it soon becomes apparent that the conversations would only be normal if the child were 8 years old and the family belonged to a cult. James’ only conversations revolve around Brigsby Bear, never mind the weird handshake ritual of the family when they say in unison, “May our minds be stronger tomorrow.” They wear gas masks to go outside, which James does on occasion.
During one of those excursions, police cars descend upon the family’s underground home. James learns the people he thought were his parents actually abducted him as a child and held him captive all these years. With the only parents he has ever known now locked up, a kindly detective (Greg Kinnear) reunites James with his real parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins). James experiences real life for the first time.
To his great dismay, he discovers that "Brigsby Bear Adventures" was a show his father produced just for James. He is devastated to learn that no one else in the world has ever seen an episode. The show that defined his life was a lie. James can’t help but relate everything he sees to Brigsby Bear; he won’t stop talking about it.
His parents try everything to divert his attention from the show and dismiss it as unimportant. They even take the advice of a heartless therapist (Claire Danes) and send James to an inpatient facility for a while. But James is fixated and will not abandon his love for Brigsby Bear. Fortunately for him, his new friends find James’ favorite show entertaining and his enthusiasm contagious. One by one, those around James learn to accept his obsession and jump on board when he decides to finish the Brigsby Bear story in the form of a movie.
As the film evolves, so do the attitudes of those around James, and there are plenty of laughs; that’s what viewers would expect from "Saturday Night Live" comedians such as Mooney (who was a co-writer as well as the star) and director Dave McCary. But the surprise is the tenderness. Viewers won't be able to help but root for James and his weird obsession with a fictional bear. When James premieres his movie, it receives a standing ovation, and so did this film in the Eccles Theater at Sundance.
Childhood friends McCary, Mooney and Kevin Costello (co-writer) have made something special. They shot the film entirely in Utah, on location from the Bonneville Salt Flats to Smith and Morehouse reservoir and campground.
According to Variety, Sony Pictures Classics has paid $5 million for the world rights to "Brigsby Bear."
"Brigsby Bear" is not rated, but would have a probable PG-13 rating for language and sexual humor; running time: 100 minutes.
Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy, and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband, and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on Facebook.com/theamyiverson