This movie made me soooo happy. Like, ear-to-ear grin happy. Maybe it’s because I’m a massive fan of Kyle Mooney’s intentionally-awkward comedic stylings, or it could be fact that a movie about a 30-something kidnapping victim wanting to finish the story of his beloved TV show that wasn’t actually real but just a program made by his captors sounds totally up my alley. Either or! Tomato, Tomahto!
But, those are just reasons why I liked Brigsby Bear. The real reason why I LOVED Brigsby Bear is because near every character in the film treats the emotionally and mentally-stunted James Pope with a glistening ray of humanity, a palpable, undeniable sense of the need to accept and appreciate weirdness, no matter how off-putting or utterly bizarre it may be. With his mop-top hairstyle, slunched posture, mumbling speech and inability to converse or relate to any sort of shared human experience, James is a character prime for bullying an insults, a prime geyser of mockery that never stops spouting.
But at a party with high schoolers nearly half his age, James unexpectedly finds himself in conversation with Spencer, a popular but approachable teen who shows genuine interest in the awkward, bumbling James. It’s James’ true, first friend, a human connection forged out of mutual respect and admiration instead of the required love that comes from families. Spencer could easily taunt or provoke James and kick him out of his party for his strange behavior. But Spencer realizes that James is damaged, and that he could help break this pasty manchild down, or help be the glue that builds him back up.
This is where Brigsby Bear won me over and kept me hooked throughout the rest of the film, even through its occasional but inconsequential narrative stumbles. It’s an interesting meditation on whether we should let go of passions tied to people who we once were, or if we need to embrace that no matter what we experience throughout our lives, we will each have a true, unmistakable self lurking deep down beneath our furry, animatronic bear skin.
It also helps that the film is hilarious, with James’ awkward mannerisms proving an ample well of humor (especially when we get clips of the Brigsby show.) But we aren’t necessarily laughing at James when he experiences his first sexual encounter at a party or sets off an explosion in the mountains, nor are we laughing with him, like he’s in on the joke that he is, well, the joke. It’s a strange in-between, an undefined area where James has enough courage to realize that he is strange, that his life experience is so unique that nobody will truly ever be able to relate to it. He knows in some sense he will always be alone, that people are always going to be wondering how they should act around him or carefully picking their words and phrases as to not invoke some kidnapping-PTSD. Still, James treads forward, paw over paw into the sunset to battle his demons, both those of an inner and intergalactic nature. I won’t reveal the ending, but I will say that Brigsby would be proud of Kyle Mooney’s hilarious, heartfelt movie achievement.