What a strange and lovely road we travel with “Brigsby Bear.”
This very Sundance-y film is also a little too precious by half at times, and the road is sometimes bumpy and uneven, but “Brigsby” wins the day thanks in large part to the sharp and original screenplay, and the uniformly fine work from one of the more interesting casts of the year.
“Brigsby” opens on a rather wonderfully unsettling note — one of those rare instances in which the first few minutes of a film have us guessing which of a dozen different directions we might be going.
James (Kyle Mooney from “Saturday Night Live”) is young man of about 25. He is obsessed with an old Saturday morning sci-fi television show called “Brigsby Bear,” which features the heroic title character (a person in a ratty-looking bear costume); his loyal sidekicks, the Smile Sisters, and a villain called the Sun Snatcher. The production values are low-rent and the acting is amateurish.
Each episode ends with a moral lesson aimed at very young children. The moral lessons are kind of strange and sound a bit like cultish propaganda.
Obviously James is about 20 years too old to be immersed in this weird little kids’ show, but he has cocooned himself in the world of “Brigsby.” His windowless room is plastered with posters from the show (featuring slogans such as, “Curiosity is an unnatural emotion!”), and the shelves are overloaded with collectibles and literally hundreds of VHS tapes — apparently every episode of “Brigsby” ever made.
James’ parents, played by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams, speak to him as if he’s a child and enable his fixation with “Brigsby Bear.” Their home is also a bunker, and when James and his pop step outside, they don gas masks.
What is this? It feels like a cross between “Room,” “10 Cloverfield Lane” and “Split.” Or is it more of a “Truman Show” type situation?
The answers arrive fairly soon in the story, but I’d rather not get into all the specifics. However, in order for the review to proceed, I’m going to have to reveal SOME plot developments, so please be aware of the SPOILERS AHEAD!
James finds himself in an entirely new universe, complete with another set of parents, played by Matt Walsh (“Veep”) and Michaela Watkins (tons of TV shows and movies, and she’s just great and even if you don’t immediately recognize the name I’ll bet you know her face).
Greg Kinnear plays a nice-guy cop with the nice-guy-cop name of Ted Mitchum. Claire Danes scores some smiles as Emily, a therapist who may or may not be helping James as he attempts to cope with the whole new world he’s now occupying.
Feeling lost and overwhelmed, James decides he will resurrect the Brigsby character, in a manner of speaking. What follows is whimsical and odd and even sweet.
“Saturday Night Live” writer (and longtime Mooney collaborator) David McCary directs “Brigsby” with a mostly light and deft touch. The satire of the cosplay culture (a grown man who wears a bear costume, the casting of Mark Hamill) is sly but not mean-spirited. The screenplay from Mooney and Kevin Costello is a well-crafted piece of indie-film dramedy.
This is a nifty story-within-a-story-within-a-story piece.
Sony Pictures Classics presents a film directed by Dave McCary and written by Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug material and teen partying). Running time: 97 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.