by Vicky Roach
MOWGLI was raised by wolves, Tarzan by apes ... Brigsby Bear's lead character learned his life lessons from the anthropomorphic star of an '80s children's TV show. No wonder he's confused.
Writer-actor Kyle Mooney and director Dave McCary filmed this singular indie dramedy with long-time collaborator Kevin Costello during a break from Saturday Night Live.
The parched plains of Utah provided the perfect backdrop.
Having been told the earth's atmosphere is toxic due to some kind of unspecified apocalyptic incident, James Pope (Mooney) has grown up in an underground bunker with two deranged but loving impostor parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams).
His only connection to the outside world is an educational television show named Brigsby Bear, which features a resourceful, life-size teddy (that bears absolutely no resemblance to Seth MacFarlane's cynical MA-rated version).
Returned to his biological family two decades after being kidnapped, James - unsurprisingly - finds it hard to adjust.
Emotionally delayed, socially awkward and culturally ill-equipped, James languishes without his daily Brigsby "fix" (since his impostor father actually created the show, there will be no new episodes).
Claire Danes' psychologist pathologises his obsession with the TV character.
James' real parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) are also worried that it will further hamper his chances of a normal life.
But when James shows one of his sister's friends a couple of old cassette tapes, the would-be filmmaker is similarly hooked.
Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) agrees to help James finish Brigsby's story, thus beginning an unorthodox kind of rehabilitation in which acceptance turns out to be an extremely effective form of therapy.
Creativity and collaboration provide the catalyst as the film the bear's final adventure.
Greg Kinnear's kindly detective and frustrated thespian lends a helping hand.
In the wrong hands, James might have been little more than a novelty act. But Mooney ensures we laugh with his character, not at him. There's genuine empathy to be found in the outsider's excruciating awkwardness - perhaps because of his unusually sweet disposition.
An odd and oddly affecting rite of passage.
Brigsby Bear opens on October 26. Advance paid previews in selected cinemas this weekend.
Stars: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Claire Danes
Director: Dave McCary
Verdict: 3.5 stars