A splendid cast catapults this wonderful story of a young man dealing with a major life change into serious contention as one of the best indie films of 2017. Written by Saturday Night Live cast member, Kyle Mooney, who also stars as James, the man-child in question, and one of his best childhood friends, Kevin Costello, "Brigsby Bear" is a quirky, totally unique adventure about family, friendship and childhood obsessions.
Directed by the third bosom buddy, Dave McCary, "Brigsby Bear" is the first collaboration for this very talented trio. Harkening back to their middle school common ground love for movies --- and making movies --- Mooney and his compadres have penned a truly delightful screenplay focusing on James' passion for the TV show which guided him throughout his solitary childhood with his parents, Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams).
When James is forced to face that "Brigsby Bear" has been "canceled", the loss for him is almost unbearable --- no pun intended --- until he comes to the realization that he, with the help of his new friends, Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), Meredith (Alexa Demie), Logan (Chance Crimin) and Vogel (Greg Kinnear), can make his own movie about Brigsby Bear. His infatuation with Brigsby has alarmed his therapist, Emily (Claire Danes) and others in his new environment, Greg and Louise Hope (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins), but to help James, they must accept that Brigsby Bear will always be a part of his life.
Okay, I know what you're thinking --- a grown man obsessed with a cartoon about a bear. It may sound loony, but trust me, in these three creatives' hands, "Brigsby Bear" will wow you. As I stated at the beginning, this cast is superb.
Hamill, Kinnear, Walsh --- not to ignore Mooney --- are crazy good. It's endearing and heartening to see Hamill in such a different role. His scene with Mooney in a dome in the desert is particularly captivating, showcasing his impressive depth. The duo have another memorable moment near the end of "Brigsby Bear", which is equally touching.
Kinnear and Walsh, both underutilized in the industry, are allowed to shine in their respective portrayals. Kinnear, especially, is a hoot. He puts himself out there with impressive and entertaining results.
The standout performance, though, belongs to Lendeborg. His effortless portrayal of Spencer, the "cool" kid who takes it upon himself to befriend the weird new kid, James, is vastly important to the success of "Brigsby Bear". He's a star --- watch for him.
Mooney and his pals have created a love letter to nostalgia. Don't dismiss this unorthodox ode to cartoons of old --- it's a treasure.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
His name is James. He's not autistic, he's not mentally challenged. He is simply a 25-year-old man whose entire existence is centered on a fake television character named Brigsby Bear. Once his view of the world changes dramatically, he has difficulty letting go of his fictitious pal.
Kyle Mooney, well known to "Saturday Night Live" fans, co-wrote the "Brigsby Bear" script with pal Kevin Costello. Their other close friend, Dave McCary, shines in his feature film debut as director. But most importantly, Mooney stars as James. As a result of his eye-opening performance, Mooney should now be considered in a whole new light as an acting and comedic talent. No longer will he be looked at as a second-tier cast member on the iconic TV show.
And he had substantial help from others. Greg Kinnear (hysterical) as a police detective who really wants to be a thespian, Claire Danes as James' therapist, plus SNL alum Andy Samberg and current SNL star Beck Bennett are all terrific. Mark Hamill, of "Star Wars" fame, and Jane Adams portray his parents, and we almost feel sympathy for them, despite their role in James' upbringing.
Youthful Jorge Lendeborg Jr. plays Spencer, the first peer to befriend James and make him feel welcome in his new environment. He is virtually flawless in the role.
Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins play Greg and Louise Pope, a married couple who display the proper amount of angst, frustration and helplessness when dealing with James. Maybe best of all is Ryan Simpkins as their daughter Aubrey, cool to James initially, but when she warms up to him, it's joyous.
"Brigsby Bear" has more than its share of hardy laughs. When James' home-made movie about Brigsby Bear, complete with its ultra-cheesy special effects --- and some really professional ones --- catches on with virtually the whole town, James is practically a cult figure, but in a good way. He is even recognized in a store by an autograph-seeking fan.
This film is sweet and poignant. We leave the theater confident that James will live a full life, socially responsible and happy, thanks, in part, to strong support from friends and family. But mostly because James is a strong-willed young man whose glass is always half full. The movie is a great lesson in patience and perseverance for young audiences.
Another in the recent line of small films, "Brigsby Bear" crushes the big blockbusters for entertainment value and for eliciting real human emotions. I'll take "Brigsby Bear" and "The Big Sick" every time over a movie like "Dunkirk". I loved it!
Opinion: Strong See It Now!