Brigsby Bear Concocts a Sweet Deception to Make an Acid Point About Mass Media | Film Review | Indy Week
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Brigsby Bear Concocts a Sweet Deception to Make an Acid Point About Mass Media 

click to enlarge Brigsby Bear

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Brigsby Bear

Brigsby Bear is a send-up of how popular entertainment coopts our consciousness that also cheekily casts the actor who played Luke Skywalker. Its compelling but sometimes inconsistent narrative layers are the byproduct of a brazenly offbeat comedy that isn't always attuned to its own satirical rhythms. Holding it together is the idea that the value of art is in the eye of the beholder.

A word of warning: there's no way to review Brigsby Bear without discussing the reveals that begin in the opening fifteen minutes, so the spoiler-averse should proceed with caution.

Kyle Mooney, the SNL cast member who cowrote the film, stars as James, a twentysomething man-child living with his mom and dad, April (Jane Adams) and Ted (Mark Hamill), in a biosphere buried in the desert. James's sole connection to the outside world is a cut-rate live-action children's show called "Brigsby Bear." He sleeps under a Brigsby bedspread and wears only Brigsby T-shirts. A new episode arrives on videotape every week, offering escapism laced with education and indoctrination. The bear has fantastical adventures one minute, teaches algebraic equations the next, and mixes in life lessons about completing chores and masturbating in moderation, all while spouting mantras like "Curiosity is an unnatural emotion" and "Prophesy is meaningless, trust only your familial unit."

But then, James is suddenly whisked away in a nocturnal FBI raid. His parents turn out to be kidnappers who abducted him from the hospital as a newborn, and the show is Ted's creation, produced solely for James. As the world rejoices, along with the disoriented James's biological parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins), all he wants to know is when the next episode will arrive.

James's family wants him to integrate into society. Meanwhile, as leaked Brigsby Bear shows become YouTube sensations, James and his new friend, Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), start storyboarding a film à clef in which Brigsby is rescued by space raiders, moves to a new home he didn't know existed, and then seeks out his "bear parents"—because "if you think about what they did, it wasn't even that bad." A sympathetic detective (Greg Kinnear) even sneaks James some props seized from the Brigsby set.

It's at this point that Brigsby Bear teeters on brilliance. The backyard basketball games and movie theater trips that James's parents and psychiatrist (Claire Danes) want him to embrace are no more substantial than the fake children's show. They're all diversions, like the hours we spend binge-watching Netflix or surfing social media. Indeed, it seems like James's cultural acclimatization is less for his benefit than for the comfort of those around him. But there's a patent moral conundrum: as James's birth father rightly points out, Brigsby Bear was the tool used to pacify and imprison their son.

Armed with this provocative plotline, Mooney and director Dave McCary nonetheless guide their masterpiece-in-the-making toward a vexing ending that embraces the very mass-media preoccupation the film otherwise skewers, while relegating ethical complexities to the sidelines. Brigsby Bear seems to cop out for the sake of a happy resolution, even though society has long distinguished art from the moral imperfections of the artist. The Brigsby Bear show was born from a monster, but that doesn't necessarily negate its personal meaning to James and others, however kitschy, compromised, or obsessive. It all strikes close to home.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna live-tweet a reality show finale, rewatch Hacksaw Ridge, and then look up the latest rumors about Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

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