Brigsby Goes Down

Inspired visuals can’t salvage Brigsby Bear’s ho-hum script

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Brigsby Bear
Opens Sept. 8

Rainbow Cinema

Brigsby Bear should have been my jam. A low-budget rehash of The Truman Show with DIY exuberance and Mark Hamill in a supporting role? Sign me up!

Too bad the film coasts on a single premise and avoids the complicated questions it raises.

Abducted as a child and unaware of it, James (Kyle Mooney, SNL) has spent most of his life locked underground, as “protection from an unhospitable environment”. His kidnappers/foster parents (Hamill and Jane Adams) have come up with a Doctor Who-like TV show —“Brigsby Bear” — that teaches James life skills and gives him the illusion of social interaction.

We barely get a glimpse of James’ “post-apocalyptic” life when he is rescued from his captors and unceremoniously returned home. Of all the likely traumas someone in his situation may have, the only lingering one is “Brigsby Bear” withdrawal. But not to worry, James soon realizes he can produce new episodes himself.

Brigsby Bear’s aesthetic is, by far, its most accomplished aspect. If reality is drab and bland, Brigsby’s faux TV show is do-it-yourself wonder: shot on VHS, the program is pure Mélies-like ingenuity. The suggestion of a denser mythology and James’ “recapping” the shows online are nifty details in tune with the way we watch television today.

The problem is that, outside its keen pop culture awareness, little of the visual creativity makes it into the script. For a character who’s on screen for nearly every frame of the movie, James is woefully underwritten. I’m not expecting Brie Larson in Room, but the “fish out of water” approach doesn’t cut it. I can appreciate this is a comedy-with-heart type of film, but given the promising setup and a soulful performance by Mark Hamill, it feels like a wasted opportunity. ❧