By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
We open with a well-worn VHS copy of a decidedly strange kiddie show.
An animatronic talking bear and identical twins in rainbow-striped overalls are struggling to free themselves from ivy that has bound them to a (cardboard) stone wall, as a talking sun (looking like the Man in the Moon from the Georges Mélies film A Trip to the Moon) threatens their lives.
It feels like an amped-up version of Barney and Friends or The Banana Splits, only it's something you've never seen.
Turns out, only one kid has ever watched it: James, the now 25-year-old man with a severe, but understandable, case of arrested development.
He's the heart of the new film Brigsby Bear, a wonderfully weird, mostly successful new indie drama now screening in Amarillo exclusively at the United Artists Amarillo Star 14, 8275 W. Amarillo Blvd.
Brigsby Bear is both a bracing blast of pure weirdness and a smile-inducing dose of goofy sincerity.
It's impossible to describe without letting slip a few minor spoilers: We first meet James (Kyle Mooney) inside the bunker where he lives with his parents (Jane Adams and Mark Hamill), but just as we learn enough about their life there to wonder if we're in some sort of post-apocalyptic landscape, a swarm of police officers swoop in and return James to his biological parents (Michaela Watkins and Matt Walsh), from whom he was kidnapped as an infant.
Brigsby Bear Adventures was made exclusively for James to watch in his bunker, teaching him math lessons and the odd sentiment like "Curiosity is an unnatural emotion." And James is well and truly obsessed with the show: His bedsheets, his pajamas, his walls are all emblazoned with the show's logo and imagery, and he proselytizes about the show's lessons with shy but insistent passion.
You can't blame him, really: It's all he's ever known, and the new world in which he has found himself unceremoniously dropped is filled with confusing thoughts and feelings.
It's a really strange line that Brigsby Bear walks. We, of course, want James to acclimate and find some semblance of a happy life, and hanging onto an artifact of his life in (unknowing) captivity doesn't seem particularly healthy. But when James gets it into his head that he wants to make a movie to close out Brigsby's story, it has undeniably positive effects in his life.
That nebulous area between disturbing and sweet is a path well worn by Mooney, whose SNL sketches are always the oddest of the night. First-time feature director Dave McCary (also an SNL director) mostly finds the right balance in working from a script by Mooney and Kevin Costello. The film tiptoes a bit too much around the darker elements of the story, especially when wrapping up in a mostly earned but still a little too expected sentimental finale.
James' utter guilelessness, though, makes it understandable why people are drawn to him and want to help him, including his younger sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), her classmates and a friendly police detective (Greg Kinnear). Mooney is utterly committed to the role, and his supporting cast all give warm, inviting performances.
Brigsby Bear is certainly one of the weirdest films you'll see this year, and despite a few flaws, it's still highly compelling viewing if you're on its wavelength.