James Pope never left home, content to live with his parents. His only concern in the world is his obsession with a children’s television program titled Brigsby Bear Adventures, writing detailed recaps of the show and debating each episode online with other fans. But what if the world he lives in isn’t reality?
James (Kyle Mooney, SNL) has spent his life underground with his parents, Ted and April Mitchum (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). Forced to stay underground because the rest of the world has been contaminated by radiation, James fills his days with Brigsby Bear, always wearing a shirt from the show, collecting merchandise and watching every episode, which he has on VHS tape. This may hit a little close to home.
As he dons a gas mask and sneaks out to the roof to watch the desert, James sees police cars approaching his home. He, Ted and April are taken away. He meets Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear, Little Miss Sunshine), who tells him that what he has come to accept as reality is untrue. He has a real set of parents and a sister. And even more shocking, Brigsby Bear wasn’t a real show, but was created by Ted just for him. No one else knows anything about his greatest obsession — even the people he talked to on the internet were his abductors.
James needs to learn how to relate to his real parents, Greg and Louise Pope (Matt Walsh, a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade and Michaela Watkins, an SNL cast member from 2008-2009 and The House) and their daughter Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins, Revolutionary Road and The House).
You instantly realize that everyone has been living in a different version of reality. For James’ real parents, they had spent 25 years looking for him and can’t break the behavior patterns that allowed them to mentally survive. And his sister has grown to resent the brother she has never met. But this isn’t a cookie cutter movie — she has the capacity to love James and even takes him to a party.
You might expect the drinking and drugs in this scene to lead to tragedy, but instead they allow James to open up and discuss Brigsby with a large crowd, including Spencer, who is an aspiring filmmaker. They agree to finish the story of Brisgby Bear.
Detective Vogel gives James the show’s props and show of his videotapes, which he uploads to YouTube, creating a new audience for the show that only he has seen and building anticipation for his movie. However, James’ parents and therapist (Claire Danes) don’t approve, thinking that this is holding him back from accepting reality.
While filming in the woods, James creates a giant explosion, shocking everyone and drawing the police. He loses all of the costumes and props as the result.
One night, determined to tell his story, he leaves in his parent’s car and goes to his old home, which now seems just as alien as the world he has re-entered. This reminded me of Room, but not in a bad way. On his way back to his new home, James decides to find Whitney (Kate Lyn Sheil, You’re Next), a waitress who played the Smiles sisters on Brigsby. She’s the only woman that he’s ever loved — sure, it’s been through a fake TV show created by his abductive father — but it’s love nonetheless. She tells him how badly she felt once she learned what the truth was, as she had been led to believe that the show was created for Canadian public access. As the police arrive to arrest him, he confesses his love for her and asks her to be in his movie.
James is institutionalized, where he meets Eric (Andy Samberg), who keeps his spirits up. One night, he decides to run away, but once he gets home to grab clothes, he learns that his family, Spencer and Detective Vogel have been working on finishing his movie. The scene where Aubrey stands up for her brother and shows them how the power of creating a movie has helped him be normal and make friends felt powerful and honest.
There’s only one thing missing, but only James would know: Brigsby’s voice just isn’t right. He goes to jail to visit Ted, who offers to explain why he abducted him. But James has already made peace with his “old dad” and just wants his help to finish the film.
The film is completed, with Detective Vogel getting to live his dream of being an actor and Whitney getting to escape the diner to act again.
On the night of the movie’s premiere, James is nervous to the point of nausea, worried that people won’t enjoy the culture that had once belonged only to him. Yet when he walks into the theater, he only sees pure joy. His mother and father are crying in happiness, his sister welcomes him with an embrace and when he looks to the stage, he sees Brigsby, who waves goodbye and disappears.
The end of this film reduced me to tears. Seriously, I found this whole movie to be near perfect.
Brigsby Bear was co-written by Mooney and Kevin Costello, and directed by Dave McCary — three friends who went to high school together and later formed the sketch group Good Neighbor with Beck Bennett and Nick Rutherford (who also appear in the film). So much of the film was based on their years of making videos together, Mooney being a nostalgic introvert and the worries that no one will love what you spent so long creating.
They based the videos within the film on the aesthetic of 80’s kid’s shows, like Prayer Bear. Mooney is a big collector of strange videos, like the stuff that shows up at the amazing Found Footage Festival.
This was one of my favorite films this year and would be a perfect way to close out your 2017!