Brigsby Bear: Art for good and art from evil

A- Fish out of water comedy
Written by Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney
Directed by Dave McCary

If you’re looking for a laugh-a-minute comedy, Brigsby Bear shouldn’t be your first choice. But if you want a good (if not entirely believable) story about parenting and the nature of art – along with a few giggles along the way – you’ll find plenty to enjoy in this charmer.

I can’t tell you much about the story without spoiling it for you. A big surprise comes early. But I’ll tell you what I can.

Brigsby Bear examines the positive and negative aspects of art. One man uses his considerable talent to raise a child in a beautiful, fictitious, alternative universe, only to create a young adult unable to function in the real world. That young man will eventually find himself, and his community, in his art.

When we first meet James (Kyle Mooney, who also co-wrote the screenplay), he’s a 25-year-old manchild obsessed with a children’s TV show called Brigsby Bear. He still lives with his parents, and his only connection with the world outside is the show’s Internet forum. Their home is an entirely enclosed complex in the desert. James has been taught that he can’t safely go outside without a gasmask.

But the movie is clearly not futuristic. James watches his show on a VCR. His laptop looks like something out of the 80s.

With its fanatically protective parents, the first half hour reminded me very much of Dogtooth. But Brigsby Bear goes in an entirely different, much less dark, direction.

I can’t tell you how it happens, but James is forcibly removed from his entirely artificial environment and dropped into the real world. He struggles. He makes friends. He becomes a minor celebrity. And he must accept the fact that his parents have lied to him all his life, and have left him unable to deal with the world.

What these parents (played by Mark Hamill and Claire Danes) did was unquestionably evil. And yet they did it out of love. What’s more, they created a massive, epic work of art for an audience of one. And while on one level the work was a lie, it was also an educational tool. It taught him math, and it taught him courage.

It’s no surprise that as James adjusts to the world, he decides to become a filmmaker. Keep in mind that until recently, he had seen only one TV show and no movies. No wonder he sets out to make a Brigsby Bear movie.

Most of the humor in Brigsby Bear comes from the fish-out-of-water scenario. James doesn’t know how to relate to other people. When asked by a police detective (Greg Kinnear) if his parents ever touched him is an inappropriate way, he demonstrates a handshake. He says awkward things to strangers. He has an exceptionally awkward first kiss.

The laughs are minor in Brigsby Bear. But you can’t help loving James, caring about his story, and thinking about the nature of art.