Kyle Mooney & Co. tell a heartwarming story about how important it is to tell stories.
There's no shortage of movies that are "about the movies." For as long as the medium has existed, filmmakers have been making movies about the power of movies in general, and this trope doesn't limit itself to just one medium (I even had a creative writing professor in college who handed down a "no writing stories about writing stories" edict as the semester began). Stories are a big part of the way we make sense of ourselves and the world, so it follows that plenty of storytellers have taken the time to explore how they work and how we relate to them.
Brigsby Bear, largely written & produced by the members of Good Neighbor (most of whom have gone on to work on Saturday Night Live in one capacity or another), joins the pantheon of movies dedicated to exploring the way cinema helps us relate to the world when the "normal" ways really don't work out. Co-writer Kyle Mooney plays James, a socially-stilted 25-year-old who's grown up with his mother and father in near-total isolation, an interminable amount of Brigsby Bear video tapes serving as his only form of entertainment. When just about all of this changes, James finds himself trying to figure out a strange new world while also coming up with a way to give the Brigsby Bear story an ending it deserves.
It's hard to talk about Brigsby Bear without going into too much detail, because the more about this film that is able to surprise you, the more rewarding your experience will wind up being. Working with childhood friend Kevin Costello, Mooney has written here a love letter to nostalgia, as well as an ode to the true connective powers of creativity...and they've pulled off an impressive tonal balancing act, in doing so. As James struggles to fit into the brand new world he finds himself thrust into, Brigsby Bear deftly veers from heartbreaking to sweetly optimistic, and never does so without complete and total sincerity. Brigsby Bear is a film full of hope, but most importantly it dedicates itself to the notion that said hope can take any form, so long as it's the one that works for you. Its staunch rejection of the idea that someone might compromise their creative identity for an easier path to social acceptance is a very large part of what makes the movie so uplifting.
Nostalgia also plays a key role in Brigsby Bear, and the film touches on its potential to be both a positive and negative force in one's life. Mark Hamill's casting highlights this neatly, and he turns in a fantastic performance even if it's a little more brief than I might have liked. He's used with incredible efficacy, though, as is the rest of the supporting cast. Matt Walsh, Greg Kinnear, Michaela Watkins, and Claire Danes all turn in solid performances as the adults in James' life, while Ryan Simpkins and the fantastic Jorge Lendenborg Jr. round out the cast as his de facto peers.
The veterans in the cast all acquit themselves as nicely as they're expected to, but it's Lendenborg who really stands out. His Spencer is the nice kid that everyone likes. Easy to talk to and popular, but kind and compassionate at the very same time. Once he and James bond over Brigsby Bear, their creative energy takes on a snowball effect. Before long, James realizes that even if the world isn't quite what he expected it can be, he can still make it a little something more along the lines of what works for him.
Brigsby Bear is an absolute beating heart of nostalgia, and it's probably my favorite film of the year. It's a movie about movies in a way that feels genuinely fresh and exciting, and makes sure to look backwards in a way that still manages to motivate and inform our ability to move forward and become who we're truly meant to be. Not unlike James' subterranean home, Brigsby Bear has a lot under the surface, despite its breezy running time and consumnate watchability. After all: imagination is a hell of a thing.