“Brigsby Bear”

Susan Granger’s review of “Brigsby Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)


This charming, low-budget comedic drama came and went too quickly – because Sony Pictures Classics had no idea how to market it. Which is a shame because it has a quirky, provocative theme.

Shielded from the “toxic air” outside, 20-something James (Kyle Mooney) lives in a hermetically sealed bunker, underground in the California desert with his parents, April and Ted Mitchum (Jane Adams, Mark Hamill).

Isolated, James spends his days obsessively watching hundreds of VHS episodes of a fantasy TV show called “Brigsby Bear Adventures,” featuring a huge, anthropomorphic teddy bear that repeatedly saves the galaxy, while subtly home-schooling James in science and mathematics.

One night, James hears sirens and sees lights coming toward their bunker. When the police arrive, they arrest the Mitchums for kidnapping James from the hospital just after he was born.

Bewildered, James is questioned by Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) and reunited with his real parents, the Popes (Michaela Watkins, Matt Walsh), who have never stopped searching for him.

Understandably confused by the middle-class suburban existence into which he’s thrown, James’ primary reference is “Brigsby Bear” which, as it turns out, cartoonist Ted Mitchum created exclusively for James’ viewing. No one else has ever seen or heard of the show.

Yet when James goes to the movies, he discovers a medium to which he can relate. With the help of his ‘new’ sister Aubrey (Ryan Simkins), her aspiring CGI artist pal Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and empathetic Det. Vogel, James sets out to film a conclusion to Brigsby’s saga – much to the consternation of the Popes and their clueless therapist (Claire Danes).

Written by Kyle Mooney with James Costello, it’s directed by Dave McCary – all “Saturday Night Live” alums. Instead of plunging James into predictable negativity about his abduction trauma, they infuse his character with whimsical creativity, surrounding him with good, kind people willing to collaborate to fulfill his pop culture vision and find closure.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Brigsby Bear” is a sincerely sweet 7, poignant and life-affirming.