BRIGSBY BEAR Blu-ray Review
How much do you love your favorite TV show? That’s just one of the questions asked in Brigsby Bear, a quirky comedy co-written by and starring Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney. It received a high amount of acclaim this past summer and for a good reason. Here is a film that sets up a strange premise, twists our perception and finds a way to make it all feel oh so earnest. There is a very subdued sense of humor here that goes along with the familiar indie vibe, but a level of drama that plays well into this film’s story. There’s a neat journey to watch here, and it comes with the establishment of a children’s show that calls to mind nostalgic love for what 80s entertainment for adolescents had to offer.
Mooney stars as James, a 30-something man who lives in a secluded world consisting of only himself and his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). James spends his days watching and analyzing episodes of Brigsby Bear Adventures, a children’s show that balances fantasy adventure with education. It is soon revealed to James that there is more to his world than just the underground home he has lived in his entire life. Upon exiting that house and going on to live with new people, however, James still finds a need for Brigsby, despite also learning that this was a show made entirely for him.
Brigsby Bear reminded me of the oddness found in Frank, the film that featured Michael Fassbender in a papier-mâché head for the entire movie. Fittingly enough, Frank’s director Lenny Abrahamson would go on to direct Room, which also has a strange amount of ideas in common with Brigsby. The difference is obviously the tone, as Brigsby is mostly a comedy, but also the sense of optimism to be found in it. While Jacob Tremblay had a unique perspective that Room was built around, Brigsby has its own unique take on what it means to discover the world for the first time and how to cope with the immense change in how to live.
The marketing and the filmmakers have been intentionally vague about the exact nature of this movie, and I would recommend going in as blind as possible. Even with a summary, there are surprises to be found in the film. That said, something I enjoyed quite a bit about Brigsby was how it chose to handle its weirdness. This is a film that gets a lot of mileage out of its quirkiness, as James is socially awkward, given the circumstances. There’s a way Brigsby could have challenged its earnest sensibilities by adding in the harsh, cynical realities of now being in the real world. However, the characters are warm to James and the biggest conflict becomes how to best help him in his quest to show Brigsby Bear Adventures to the world.
Mooney and director Dave McCary are friends, along with co-writer Kevin Costello. This group brings to mind The Lonely Island, which is fitting since that group served as producers on the film, with a small role going to Andy Samberg as well. I make a note of this because Brigsby does feel like the effort of friends who wanted to put together something small and personal that also makes them laugh. It is clear that a level of passion went into the making of this film, but it stands to reason that it’s riding a line of being in the know as far as just how familiar the indie film aspects of this movie are. It’s not a parody of indie films involving troubled young white guys that do weird stuff, but I couldn’t imagine this crew being oblivious to what we are seeing.
I’m familiar enough with Mooney’s work on SNL and Brigsby does feel like a natural extension of the weirder filmed skits he is involved with on that show. Fortunately, he was able to secure a lot of additional talent to go along with him on this odd endeavor. Hamill gets a fine role to play in a tricky performance, given what we learn. Also around is a solid Greg Kinnear as a detective who just wants to help. Other members of the cast include Claire Danes, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Kate Lyn Sheil, Beck Bennett and Jorge Lendeborg Jr., a new actor who lends a lot of charm to this film as a new friend for James.
In mentioning all the members of the cast, I again find it important to note how much everyone just wants to help James. It would be very easy for the film to make the James character the punchline of every joke, but while we laugh at the fish-out-of-water angle, it’s not because we are rooting for him to fail. There is no meanness in Brigsby Bear, which speaks a lot to the type of film we are watching. Perhaps it could be considered a bit shallow, given the implications of what James has gone through in his development, but it’s the tone of the film that had me overlooking such things.
I really enjoyed Brigsby Bear. There’s a strong, sympathetic performance from Mooney that centers this film and plenty of confidence in how it is handling the story being told. There’s also a joy to be found in the nature of the show within this film, especially as we see how the cast goes about bringing it back to life. It’s certainly an odd movie, but also the kind of smaller film to take in as something that was made to be meaningful and heartfelt. For me, it succeeded, and I can only hope more people discover it on Blu-ray.
Brigsby Bear’s AVC-encoded 1080p transfer does an excellent job presenting this low-budget indie. Shot with the spirit of a small film that got a big break thanks to the cast involved, there is a great amount of clarity to be found in the detailed sets revolving around Brigsby Bear in particular. That’s neat to point out, given how the film’s TV show does its best to look bad and grainy. But it serves a purpose and still fits with the rest of the feature. Additionally, colors pop in a film that somewhat downplays these elements in the later parts of the film. Black levels are strong enough for the many nighttime scenes. Facial textures register well enough.
This lossless 5.1 DTS-HD track does a service to the audio design of the film. Once again, having the show within the film allows for a unique presentation, as its purposeful design means getting lo-fi attempts to create a universe mixed with the human lives of people in the real world. Balance is strong, with the neat score and other auditory elements coming through loud and clear on the front and center channels, with enough attention paid to the rear speakers as well. Not much for the LFE channel to do, but an explosion does give it a jolt. It’s a quality audio presentation.
Despite the sadly low box office totals, Sony Pictures Classics stills saw fit to provide this Blu-ray with a decent selection of extras that offer almost all you want for a film like this.
- Audio Commentary with Kyle Mooney & Dave McCary
- The Wisdom of Brigsby Bear – A look at the film’s origins and themes.
- An Evening with Brigsby Bear – Another featurette delving into the film’s concept.
- Twin Speaks: Kyle & Dave – The partnership between these two is explored as far as how it contributed to this film.
- Gag Reel
- Brigsby Bear: The Lost Episode!
- Extended & Deleted Scenes
The Bottom Line:
I’m never a big fan of pronouncing films as cult classics in the making, as that happens by chance. However, Brigsby Bear does have all the things it needs to become a favored film for a select audience. It’s warm-hearted and quirky, in addition to having some really neat elements regarding the show within the film. The Blu-ray presentation is quite strong thanks to a solid technical display and the good amount of extras in play. If you’re looking for something fun in a different sort of way, Brigsby Bear is a good choice.