“Try to imagine a hero.  And he’s not on the bad side, he’s on the good side.  But he has to go against a guy on the bad side.  So that’s why he decides he’s going on an adventure.”

With these lines, the protagonist James pitches his home movie idea to Detective Vogel a.k.a Greg Kinnear.  If these lines don’t make you want to watch Brigsby Bearthen I hope this review does.  This review marks the inaugural movie review in my journey to blog through every one of Greg Kinnear’s (GK’s) movies!  I describe the project here.  As a warning, this review (and all reviews in this series) will contain SPOILERS!  If you plan to watch Brigsby Bear, maybe save this blog until after.  If you don’t plan to watch it, read on!  I don’t expect my loyal readers to watch every one of Kinnear’s movies, so in each post I’ll try to include fun discussions that go beyond the movie.  For instance, I’ll spill some good ink on “Kinnear’s beards” in this one.  So without further ado, my movie source and the review!

Movie source: the San Francisco Public Library! A while ago, Brigsby Bear was available to stream on Amazon for $2.99 but that is no longer the case.  You may have to buy it or check out your local library.

Brigsby Bear (2017, Sony Pictures Classics)

Kyle Mooney of SNL fame co-wrote and starred in Brigsby Bear.  The other co-writer, Kevin Costello, and director, Dave McCary, were Mooney’s middle-school pals.  The movie follows James (Mooney), who is in his mid-twenties and lives in a bunker with his parents, Ted (Mark Hamill) and April, because the outside air is toxic.  James spends his days doing school work and watching “Brigsby Bear,” a low-budget sci-fi show with 80s vibes that is meant to instill moral values, teach math, and help with puberty. Here’s Brigsby:

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Brigsby Bear.  Photo Source: Sony Pictures Classic

[I will use Brigsby Bear to mean the movie, “Brigsby Bear” to mean the show within the movie, and Brigsby Bear to mean the character in the show in the movie.  So meta].

Brigsby Bear quickly takes a turn, as police rescue James and return him to his real parents, revealing that he was kidnapped as an infant. There is a dark path Brigsby Bear could take about the emotional and physical trauma experienced by kidnapping victims, à la Room.  But this is not that movie.  Instead, Brigsby Bear is about obsession with pop culture and the persistent power it holds over you.  Ted and April are good “fake” parents, like a friendless, middle-class, bunker-dwelling version of Raising Arizona’s Ed and H.I.  James’s biggest trouble adjusting to real life is his discovery that there will be no new episodes of “Brisby Bear,” since the show was filmed by Ted in a warehouse and shown only to James.  James soon resolves to finish the “Brigsby Bear” story by making a movie.  It is through this quest–and the relationships formed–that he learns to (somewhat) release his Brigsby obsession and navigate the real world.

The writing is sharp, and Kyle Mooney is terrific as James.  Imagine Napoleon Dynamite with swagger:  a confident Napoleon, whose awkwardness comes not from pocketing tater tots or wielding nunchucks but from learning how to navigate the world and modern technology.  Adding an extra sizzle to the movie is the supporting cast, which includes Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, and our guy Greg Kinnear.  Claire Danes is solid as James’ therapist, but underutilized and the movie’s debbie downer with her constant refrain of “no more Brigsby.”  Mark Hamill, playing James’s fake father Ted, excels mostly through his voice work as the voices of both Brigsby Bear and the villain Sun Snatcher.  Greg Kinnear is the best of all, playing the role of Detective Vogel, who rescues James and then participates in his movie.  His character undergoes a transformation from sympathetic detective, to the first adult to support James’s movie, to embracing his inner geek and acting in said movie.  To follow each phase of Vogel’s transformation, I’ll highlight three of my favorite scenes.

Scene 1: Detective Vogel

Detective Vogel first appears at the precinct, just after James has been rescued and is still confused about his situation.  Vogel enters the room, sits on a chair backwards (so cool), and hands James a glass-bottled Coca-Cola (made with real sugar and kept in Vogel’s mini-fridge for his friends).  He says:

“James.  My man.  That is your name right?  James?  Well, I’m Detective Vogel and this is for you.  If you’re thirsty.”

What follows is a great scene, where Vogel tries to be James’s friend and sympathetically ask questions about his life in captivity.  Basically, Greg Kinnear crushes it as a sympathetic buddy cop who has his own “coke stash.”  Kinnear also goes off-script by adding several non-verbal actions to the scene, such as sitting on the chair backwards and taking his glasses on and off.  On screen, these actions are meant to break the ice between the characters and make James feel safer.  In the movie’s commentary, the director and Mooney call Kinnear a “prop master.”

On watching this scene, my wife pointed out that this may be the only movie where Kinnear has a beard (!).  Behold the beard and legit-detective-suspenders:

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Detective Vogel.  Photo Source: Sony Pictures Classics

So then I did a very robust google search, namely “Greg Kinnear bearded movie roles.”  The only other movie that came up was Stuck in Lovewhere GK has “I don’t care about life” facial hair.  Technically this is facial hair, but does it count as a beard?  I was going to insert a poll so y’all could vote, but to do that I have to pay for a better WordPress plan.  Stupid.  Whether Stuck on Love facial hair counts or not, it is clearly not a well-groomed goatee like Vogel’s.  So why the beard and why now?  I have two hypotheses:  (1) it was GK’s idea. He is the a prop master after all.  (2) It’s meant to set up Detective Vogel as a direct foil to James’s captive-dad-Ted.

Mark Hamill–in real life, as Luke Sywalker, and as Ted–basically sports an evolving and sometimes lusher version of the same goatee.  This suggests that the dueling goatees are meant to establish GK’s Detective Vogel as the kinder, better father figure to MH’s Ted.  Woah.  Or I’m over-interpreting it all and GK’s beard is just great.  More on this later, onto the next scene.

Scene 2: Prospero

Kinnear next pops up 25 minutes later.  At this point, James has decided to make his “Brigsby Bear” movie and goes to Vogel to recover the show’s props from impound.  After a humorous failed attempt to bribe Vogel, James “stealthily” waits outside Vogel’s office and follows him to lunch.  Imagine the sleuthing skills of Napoleon Dynamite:

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Prospero.  Photo Source: Sony Pictures Classics

Vogel spots James and calls him over.  James makes a stronger case to get the props by pitching his movie.  This movie pitch bears repeating:

“Try to imagine a hero.  And he’s not on the bad side, he’s on the good side.  But he has to go against a guy on the bad side.  So that’s why he decides he’s going on an adventure.”

Vogel knowingly obliges and even offers that he used to act in high school.  He then quotes several lines from Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  (Both Kinnear and Mooney acted this role in their school days and remembered parts of it.  But Kinnear remembered more, because of course).  The best part of this scene is how Mooney looks at him:  wide-eyed and mouth gaping, in awe of the first non-Brigsby-Bear-acting he’s ever seen.  I wish I could find a picture, but it’s basically how we all look at GK.

This interaction ropes Vogel in, and in the next scene we see him privately go to the impound room and play with a Brigsby prop (Bortep’s staff) like it’s a lightsaber.  A few scenes later, Vogel delivers the Brigsby props to James and joins the movie.

Scene 3: Feldo Mortese

In probably Kinnear’s best scene of the movie, he acts a scene as his character, Feldo Mortese, in James’s movie.  This scene got a standing ovation at the Shanghai International Film Festival.  A picture best summarizes it:

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Feldo Mortese.  Photo Source: Sony Pictures Classics

First, beard extensions!  As if GK’s beard couldn’t get any cooler.  Second, Last Jedi vibes anyone?  This is basically Hamill’s Luke Skywalker in Last Jedi.  Between the dueling goatees, the lightsaber-like wielding of Bortep’s staff, and Feldo’s costume, I believe we have enough evidence to support my theory that GK’s Detective Vogel is the foil to MH’s captive-dad Ted.  He is the good father figure.  Kinnear out-Skywalkers Hamill.

The Feldo scene itself is excellent.  Kinnear’s dorkiness is on full display, in everything from being slightly embarrassed (“Your parents aren’t coming home any time soon, right?”), to trying to understand his character (a sad guy who lives in a cave), to wanting to re-do the scene (“Can I try another one? I…I think, um, maybe I could bring it to another level”).  Kinnear’s dorkiness extends through the rest of his scenes.  The last shot of him shows him in the audience for the showing of James’s “Brigsby Bear” movie, reciting his own lines in sync with Feldo on the screen.

Summary

  • Kinnear crushes it as a sympathetic, buddy cop with his own “coke stash.”
  • Kinnear is a Prop Master, adept at adding props and non-verbal gestures to make scenes his own.
  • Kinnear’s dorkiness is on full display as Feldo Mortese, a sad hermit who lives in a cave.
  • Kinnear out-Skywalkers Mark Hamill like it’s nobody’s business.  You might as well skip all the Star Wars and just watch Brigsby Bear.
  • GK Movie Ranking:  Brigsby Bear is number 1!  Jk.  It will make more sense to rank his movies as we watch more.
  • Next up:  it only makes sense that we next explore how Kinnear outdoes Han Solo in Sabrina.  The movie is on Hulu, if you want to get a head start!

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