Brigsby Bear movie review: Better suited to a Saturday Night Live sketch than full-length feature

Mihir Fadnavis

Oct,18 2017 15:03 17 IST

2/5

The 19th edition of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival is finally here, and with it comes an unending list of critically acclaimed Indian and international films to watch. Some of these are submissions for the Oscars, while others are hitherto untold, hyperlocal stories. Firstpost will review the most promising of these films.

***

With an interesting premise that is prolonged to uninteresting levels, Brigsby Bear is the very definition of a Saturday Night Live sketch stretched into a full length movie. This scenario is made immediately clear when we realise the film is written, directed by, and starring members of SNL.

Still from Brigsby Bear

Still from Brigsby Bear

We’re introduced to a young man named James (Kyle Mooney, who also wrote the script) who lives a lonely life with his parents (Mark Hamill, Jane Adams) in a house far flung from society. His only source of entertainment is a TV show called 'Brigsby Bear'. Things take a wild turn as police suddenly show up at his house, arrest his parents and place James in counselling — he is told that the people he thought were his parents had actually abducted and imprisoned him ever since he was a child. James is restored to his original parents, and although he’s happy, there is something amiss — the titular TV show.

If you’re looking for a harmless, feel-good film with all the manipulative twee emotional undercurrent that is found in mediocre indie films, Brigsby Bear will be a breeze to sit through. The film checks most of the schmaltzy boxes — a tragic central character played with good natured sorrow, an assortment of side characters who are so nice they seem like they can only belong to an indie film and not in real life, imaginative visuals that skirt the lines between reality and magic realism, and a resolution of conflicts that found only in fables.

The problem is, the film doesn’t completely embrace the fairytale aspect of the story, trying to be real when it should be completely bonkers, and inserting some magic realism in situations that demand real resolutions. Moreover, once the reveal is made that James was a prisoner all his life, there is little that the story offers. The narrative plays like a less special version of Room where the rescued persons are unable to adjust to life outside captivity. The cartoonish tone of the film kind of undermines the gravity of the situation James has been in all his life, and the lack of seriousness is not particularly charming.

One could assume that the film is a fairy tale concocted by James as a way to deal with the trauma he had been going through all his life, but given the tone of the film it’s hard to imagine the writers thought of such depth. The third act of the film mainly consists of James trying to recreate the TV show because he misses it, and his urge to make the show is incorporated as a big statement — that it is important to create art, and art is the only way to deal with stress — which is kind of true, but it’s unspectacular plotting, and one that does not clearly reflect what it takes to get a movie made, and what it is to finally see the movie you’ve been waiting for. Ultimately this is a film that is okay at best, but given the Sundance Film Festival tag and a strong first act, this should have been much more than just okay.