Dave McCary’s first feature-film tackles the trauma explored in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room with the charmless indie queerings of Swiss Army Man, and while it is a more engaging experience than the latter, it’s lack of respect for the subject matter expertly handled in the former makes this a politically rancid affair as it shamelessly begins to tie up loose ends.
James (Kyle Mooney) is everything but ordinary. Sitting with a man he has grown to call “father”, he and his captor Ted (Mark Hamill) look out into the night from their protective bubble (of which shamelessly looks like Skywalker’s home in Star Wars: A New Hope). As they stare at plastic creatures of the night, they bond over a show they both share a wondrous enthusiasm for; Brigsby Bear. It has been the focus of James’ existence, he wears the merchandise, watches the tapes and seems to breathe the same air as the characters of the series. This routine and unnervingly visualised lifestyle shares a much more reserved but nonetheless sinister likeness to Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, or the cramped and clinical accommodations of 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, but feels much less compelling than the two.
When he is finally rescued, James is stunned to realise that Brigsby Bear will never be concluded; it was a show created by Ted in a warehouse, solely for James’ viewing pleasure. Taken aback by this, he decides to take it upon himself to finish the series by means of one, final movie. Along with his sister and a circle of new-found friends, James sets out to bring a film of twisted origins to the big screen. To begin positively, he is a fairly likeable protagonist, and when his spouting of slang and mannerisms heard from his new peers does start to grate, it must be reminded that his social awkwardness is totally justified. He is the victim of his story, and his over-exposure to a television series, despite the joy it appears to bring him, has undoubtedly ruined his life and the lives of his family members. At times, Mooney’s driven performance and his creativity and passion for the show makes you wish for him to succeed in his project, but for the most part, you desperately wish for those around him to assert some distance from the consuming aspects of his tainted past.
What the film possesses in charm is severely outweighed by its inconsistencies. Indie comedies have a tendency to throw in jokes designed to raise quick chuckle, but are glaringly preposterous. The obvious example to raise here is Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear), who adds some hearty comic relief but is as phoney as surrounding characters come. He gives away secure evidence which may very well result in further damage to a protected victim, and withholds crucial information revolving the safety of a case victim in order to secure a part in a home movie; it’s so far from any feasible reality that it becomes tiresome. But, this is the least of the film’s worries; its last act is repulsively played out under the instruction to ensure audiences leave the cinema smiling, just like those who witness James’s film. To spare details in an explanation is difficult, but the film humanises monsters for cheap laughs, but most disgustingly, it does so just to make sure there’s no bad feelings between characters - if one stops to think about it, it’s all rather sick. It’s hard to believe that that’s what they were going for, but it’s misguided optimism results in just that.
The last act is a shame, because despite its conflicts of serious subject matter and light-hearted indie filmmaking, there is some good heart channelled into the films protagonist. He is sympathetic and hard to dislike, offering a balanced representation of the many people that dream to create. It can be funny, and sweet. Unfortunately, the last act shatters what could have been a nice attempt at subverting the traditional ‘against all odds’ narrative. Brigsby Bear, a symbol of strength and willpower to James, because a symbol of imprisonment to intelligent audiences.