Culture defines us more than we care to admit.

Brigsby Bear, the directorial debut of Good Neighbor’s Dave McCary opens in limited release this weekend. Its bizarre tragi-comic story of a boy raised by a pair of captors producing a low budget TV show is incredibly unique yet ultimately too strange to make a major impact.

James Pope (Kyle Mooney) lives in a strange bunker-like complex with his two parents Ted (Mark Hamill) and April (Jane Adams). James’ days consist mostly of doing his “studies” and “chores” with his only entertainment being an ultra-low budget TV Show called Brigsby Bear delivered as a VHS cassette every week and his only interaction with the outside world being Brigsby Bear forums online.

One night while sitting outside the bunker in a gas mask, James notices some sirens on the horizon. Police officers descend on the bunker and James learns April and Ted are not his real parents and that he was abducted from the hospital as a baby.

The police return James to his real parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) who introduce him to a world beyond the bunker and, most jarringly to James, a media world beyond Brigsby Bear where there are more shows and movies than James could ever imagine. Despite this, James still shows a strong attachment to Brigsby Bear and even though he learns deeper truths about the series, he insists to everybody there are virtues from Brigsby Bear they all need to experience.

James decides to set out and make his own Brigsby Bear movie, gaining assistance from his parents, classmates and even the police officers who rescued him.

Brigsby Bear is incredibly bizarre in both its one-of-a-kind plot and its tone. What is clearly a tragic circumstance for James and his family is treated with strange deadpan matter-of-factness. James doesn’t appear to be damaged or suffering from his ordeal, instead he’s just attached to a part of his reality that always made sense to him.

This is Brigsby Bear’s chief idea: That pop culture and entertainment play a much more substantial role in our lives than any of us really care to admit. Little focus is paid to the phony post-apocalyptic circumstances in which James was brought up, but rather much of his formation is reliant on a television show that only he has ever seen.

In his desire to relate to his new world, James only really has Brigsby Bear as a vehicle to explain what he’s learned in life. This demonstrates the filmmaker’s fascination with how the culture we consume makes up much more of who we are than we probably care to accept.

The film also treats James with an immense amount of respect. Kyle Mooney doesn’t play him as either a really comic or tragic character. He’s just a young man who isn’t quite familiar with the world he’s in now and trying to adjust and explain himself the ways he best knows how without any sort of outlandish characterization or overtly dramatic issues.

It’s a strange film to be sure and perhaps a little too strange for its own good and a little too deadpan as well. When the purpose of the film is that James represents a sort of everyman in how culture has defined his life, presenting in such a bizarre package can’t help but create a few barriers for the audience that prevents the resonance the filmmakers were seeking.

This is, however, very interesting debut for director McCary and writer/star Mooney – certainly something way outside the norm for the typical debut film from an SNL star. I look forward to seeing the next strange vision this team will put together.

And how their culture will continue to define us.

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