If the credit of a film being written by SNL alum Kyle Mooney isn’t enough to get you in the audience for this knee-slappingly hilarious low-budget black comedy, try picturing a version of Blast From The Past in which Brendan Fraser’s on PCP and see if that nudges you along slightly. Absolutely one of the most delightful and unexpected gems of the year, Brigsby Bear ostensibly borrows the set-up from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and applies it to the movie-making shenanigans of Be Kind Rewind, taking a sidebar through Donnie Dario’s sense of tormented post-teenage angst for good measure.
Produced by The Lonely Island and directed by SNL’s Dave McCary, Brigsby Bear sees Mooney star as Jimmy – a bunker-dwelling retro-nerd obsessed with decoding the hidden messages of children’s show-turned-space opera Brigsby Bear as he and his doting parents wait out the rebuilding of civilisation after an apparent apocalypse. All of which immediately comes to a crashing halt when the FBI raid their bunker and liberate Jimmy – in fact a former child kidnapping victim of his apparent parents. Life on the outside proves daunting for Jimmy – despite his social detachment earning him a troupe of unlikely friends and his real family doing their best to accommodate his quirky needs. Salvation rears its head, however, with the discovery that Brigsby Bear was in fact a creation of his faux-father – leading Jimmy to realise his own dream of completing the intergalactic saga once and for all.
As pitches go, it’s not the easiest; and yet, Brigsby Bear soars on the back of an earnest screenplay as concerned with the minutia and mindset of its central character as it is his increasingly-odd antics. Mooney plays the role like a fiddle, each of Jimmy’s oddball turns and off-kilter comments adding up to something of a sublime and charmingly loony tapestry. There’s solid support on offer too, thanks to a cast that includes the always enjoyable Matt Walsh, the hopelessly underrated Michaela Watkins, and modern Americana’s answer to the Wheeties box, Greg Kinnear. It’s Mark Hamill who makes the greatest dent in proceedings, however, with a stirring – yet sadly diminished – turn as Jimmy’s abductor/father coming by way of a carefully measured performance steeped in charm and given the polish of the perfect sitcom dad, yet never escaping the innate sadism of what lies beneath. Brigsby Bear’s worth seeing for Hamill alone, but there’s still so much more to enjoy.
Part of that is down to a solid and discerning eye by McCary, whose sensibilities here allow for a mumble core aesthetic with Darkoesque polish. Meanwhile, his scenes of the Brigsby show themselves emerge outright comic gems, the degraded and deeply satirical work shining through in a series of comically over-colourised VHS disasters that you couldn’t possibly begrudge Jimmy’s love for. Very much the new Donnie Darko, yet lacking the sting to be found in that particular tale, Brigsby Bear is a must-see “alternative” work, dealing with trauma and abduction through what are best described as the full-tilt measurements of melodrama and blackly comedic satire.
Brigsby Bear is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, December 8th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.