Brigsby Bear film review: A smorgasbord of influences adds up to a heartwarming, surreal indie hit

Steve Dinneen
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Brigsby Bear

Brigsby Bear wears its influences, as well as its big soppy heart, on its sleeve. A labour of love by director Dave McCary and writers Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney (the film’s star, and a cast member Saturday Night Live), it tells the tale of a 20-something kidnap victim who has spent his entire life locked in an apocalypse bunker with his dad (played by Mark Hamill).

In the bunker, Mooney’s character James has one source of entertainment: the educational children’s TV show Brigsby Bear, starring a slightly grotesque, animatronic creature with a convoluted backstory and an uncanny knack of knowing when James hasn’t tidied his bedroom.

Upon being forcibly emancipated, it’s revealed that James’ dad was secretly behind Brigsby, and nobody in the outside world has ever heard of the show. Undeterred, James decides to finish the story by making his own film.

The bunker escape premise owes allegiance to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (another SNL star-vehicle), the visual style is indebted to The Mighty Boosh (there’s even a giant man’s face as the sun), and the deliberate over-acting is reminiscent of cult comedy series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. The redemptive power of community film-making, meanwhile, is straight out of Be Kind Rewind.

But Brigsby peeks from the shadow of these influences by being relentlessly good-natured. While it suffers occasional bouts of toe-curling tweeness, for the most part it’s a real, heartwarming joy.

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