The Lonely Island teams up with director Dave McCary and writer/actor Kyle Mooney to create a comedy very much unlike their previous work – tender, poignant, and heartwarming.

It’s not every day that you find a movie about child abduction that’s as heartwarming as Brigsby Bear – but then again, it’s not every day that you find a movie produced by spoof kings The Lonely Island, directed by a leading segment producer on Saturday Night Live, and written by an actor and SNL regular whose hobby is collecting old VHS tapes. The result? Heartwarming humour, oversized motorised bear mascot heads, and the feel-good movie of the summer.

Brigsby Bear is not a movie about Stockholm syndrome, though it may accidentally market itself as such. James (played by Kyle Mooney, who also wrote the screenplay) is a naïve, childish twenty-five-year-old whose life is left in tatters after he finds out that his “parents” had actually abducted him as a child, and his entire life up to now has been a lie. Holding on to sanity via his almost suffocating attachment to Brigsby Bear, a children’s TV show created for him by his kidnappers, James attempts to adjust to his new life in the real world by making a Brigsby Bear movie to exorcise his past demons once and for all. Of course, this decision is not taken well by some – his real parents see it as an unhealthy decision not to acclimatise himself to his new life with them, his sister Aubrey does not want him mixing with her friends, and James himself sets various obstacles in his own path due to his childish disposition and general cluelessness as to how the world works (think Jack from Room, but all grown up, and obsessed with a fictional bear on VHS).

a feel-good movie that does not require much suspension of disbelief in order to be swept along on the ride

Despite the show’s dark themes – kidnapping and the long hard road to recovery from trauma, to name a few – Brigsby Bear is a triumphantly positive affair, and a sensitive look at what it means to use your past weaknesses to craft a stronger present. Given its overt use of sensitive themes such as child abduction, and the heart-rending concept of biological parents re-acquainting themselves with a child they never knew, the show does not overstep any boundaries, and avoids treading on unstable territory in a move that should be applauded for its consideration, as opposed to being seen as “playing it safe”. Admittedly, this is no longer staple Lonely Island fare, given that their best comedic moments generally involve material that teeters on the verge of political incorrectness, but sacrificing more controversial or contrarian themes for the sake of maintaining Brigsby Bear’s positive outlook on life and moving forward was certainly a clever decision to make.

Kyle Mooney, in particular, deserves more than just the hearty round of applause that erupted in the cinema after the screening of Brigsby Bear that I saw. Besides crafting a thoughtful, heartfelt parable on using the past to overcome the present, Mooney is magnetic in his role as James. Utterly convincing in his naïveté and innocence, the film is truly carried by Mooney’s acting, even in spite of a lull in its engagement halfway through the film. Also deserving of praise are Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as the friendly, compassionate Spencer; Greg Kinnear as the hilarious Detective Vogel, and surprisingly enough, Mark Hamill as Ted Hope (James’s abductor), in a role that couldn’t be a further cry from his otherwise limpid presence in the Star Wars franchise. Each of Brigsby Bear’s characters brings their own innate charm to the table, and when further emphasised by the talented cast that the film assembles, proves itself to be a feel-good movie that does not require much suspension of disbelief in order to be swept along on the ride.

nearly boundless optimism and a poignant message

Brigsby Bear also boasts a fantastic cinematographer in the form of Christian Sprenger, who is better known for his work on TV series such as GLOW and Atlanta. It is Sprenger’s eye for a good shot that pushes what would otherwise be a typical Hollywood feel-good movie to the next level. Shot in Utah, Sprenger’s landscape shots of vast, sprawling fields and verdant forests are worthy of their own appearances on a Planet Earth broadcast, and the cinematography during the shooting of the Brigsby Bear movie within the film itself has a jubilant quality to it, all on its own. Masterful colour editing further emphasises this – when the skies are bluer than blue and everyone is having fun, it makes it so much easier to believe that everything will truly turn out alright for James in the end.

If you’re looking to watch a cross between Room, old Disney cartoons, and most Lonely Island skits with the humour dial turned down a notch, then Brigsby Bear is definitely the movie for you. With nearly boundless optimism and a poignant message to take away from it all, these Saturday Night Live veterans have truly hit the sweet spot between comedy and coming-of-age films.


4/5

‘Brigsby Bear’ will screen at London Film Festival 2017, taking place from 4th to 15th October. Information and tickets here.

Image: Sony Pictures

When EJ Oakley isn’t shedding bitter tears over her law degree or loitering near Jeremy Bentham’s mummified corpse, she enjoys immersing herself in music, film and TV, art, and video games. She owns one too many baseball jerseys.

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