In Brigsby Bear, a grown man finds himself unable to let go of his childhood obsession. No, it's not a documentary. While farewelling beloved franchises, characters and TV shows is an increasingly rare occurrence in today's remake-, revamp-, reboot- and resurrection-centric popular culture, this sweet, insightful and genuinely moving comedy doesn't simply chronicle an adult fanboy suffering from a severe bout of arrested development. Brigsby Bear's furry heart beats with more than easy nostalgia.
For the shy and awkward James Pope (writer and star Kyle Mooney, best known for his work on Saturday Night Live), his love of Brigsby Bear Adventures and its eponymous animal hero isn't driven by a wistful yearning for a past long passed. The television series might look like a relic – with its cheap sets, stilted acting and kid-friendly life lessons – and yet a new episode arrives like clockwork on VHS every week. James devours each instalment with wide-eyed enthusiasm, in his room packed wall-to-wall with Brigsby merchandise. Having spent the bulk of his life in a homely underground bunker with just his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) for company, it's literally the only escape he knows. It's also his only experience of the world beyond his contained existence.
Directed by Dave McCary and co-written by Kevin Costello (two of Mooney's primary school pals), Brigbsy Bear follows James' reaction when he's thrust out of his comfort zone, forced to interact with reality and confronted with the realisation that his favourite program isn't quite what he thinks. The precise nature of the revelation is best discovered by watching, though it's not a spoiler to say that his post-Brigsby life comes as quite a shock. As he endeavours to cope, the film couldn't be more earnest or astute in exploring why we become so attached to shows and movies, or the cathartic role they play in shaping how we approach the world.
Sure, it might sound like the kind of quirky concept that Mooney could satirise in an SNL skit, but empathy rather than parody proves the guiding principle here. Steeped in warmth as well as melancholy, while also flirting with darker territory, Brigsby Bear is the type of film that's cute yet never cloying, heartfelt but not schmaltzy, and amusing without resorting to caricature. It's a big bear hug of a movie, but one that ultimately makes it clear that even the most eager embraces can't last forever.
Thanks to McCary's DIY-esque aesthetic, Brigbsy Bear offers viewers quite a cosy visual cuddle as well, reminiscent of Be Kind Rewind and YouTube fan films. Hey, if you're going to make a film about undying '80s-style passions, you have to make it look the part. Throw in Mooney's impressively deadpan central performance, and this is a flick that excels in hitting the right notes — in its images, its themes and its emotions alike. And, like the fictional show at its centre, it also imparts a lasting message: we're more than the things we love, but we wouldn't be who we are without them.