In a bunker somewhere out west lives a 20-something man, James (Kyle Mooney), and his eccentric parents, Ted and April (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). James cannot leave the bunker because the outside air is poisoned, so he spends his time obsessively watching VHS tapes of his favorite TV show, Brigsby Bear Adventures.
Part public access, part Krofft brothers, Brigsby Bear Adventures, which is delivered in the weekly drop-off to James’ bunker, follows Brigsby and the Smiles Sisters as they fight evil while teaching a life lesson along the way. James is the show’s number one fan, his room is covered in Brigsby paraphernalia, he only wears Brigsby shirts, and he uses a camera and computer to post recaps on message boards.
After police raid the bunker, and take James into custody, he learns the awful truth. He was kidnapped 25 years ago, and probably worst of all for James, he is Brigsby’s only fan. The show was an elaborate ruse created by Ted and April to shelter James from the outside world. When James is reunited with his real parents, Greg and Louise Pope (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins), he not only needs to acclimate himself to a brand new world, but also a world without Brigsby.
Brigsby Bear doesn’t focus on the lost 25 years of James’ life, the kidnapping itself is somewhat glossed over throughout the film, there’s no montage of watching TV, or reading books to catch up on events. Instead, Mooney (who co-wrote the film with Kevin Costello) and director Dave McCary focus on James’ obsession with Brigsby, and his need to continue the bear’s story.
During our current state of pop culture, this obsession should feel right at home for those of us who clamor for the latest reboot or sequel featuring our favorite characters. James is no different from fans who create fan fiction, sign petitions to save cancelled TV shows, or file into conventions nationwide seeking autographs and photos from anyone who has had even the slightest touch of fame.
It also doesn’t dwell on the collective obsession the country tends to give to news stories like James’. Instead of wasting time on people attempting to exploit James, we see people trying to help him return to reality from his therapist (Claire Danes) to Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear). The real warmth in Brigsby Bear comes from these new friends, who don’t see a messed up weirdo, but someone with a creative vision, and whether it’s naive or not, the will to see his vision become reality.
The main catalysts for James’ attempt to continue Brigsby are his sister’s (Ryan Simpkins) high school friends, especially Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg), who saves James from a bad drug-induced trip in the woods, and is the first person, outside of James, to realize the potential in continuing the adventures of Brigsby. Spencer genuinely thinks that people will want to see Brigsby, and he’s not thinking about money or fame for himself and James, but that Brigsby is so unique that it will bring joy and happiness to people. The flipside to James’ obsession with continuing Brisgby is that it will be something original for everyone else.
Rarely does the summer movie season have a film that fills you with as much joy as Brigsby Bear, although it’s not as laugh-out-loud funny as Napoleon Dynamite or Gentleman Broncos, and is occasionally darker (it does open with James being held captive), it has the same warmth. In a summer full of turmoil and stress, Brigsby Bear is a genuinely happy film, and so full of heart that it will bring a smile to your face even as your eyes fill with tears.