IS IT REAL OR IS IT MEMOREX: Brigsby Bear and Marjorie Prime


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Warning: SPOILERS
Brigsby Bear is basically the same story as Room (but not The Room), but though a comedy, is cleverer, deeper, better written, more original and more profound than the earlier critically acclaimed drama, which for my taste had a strong first half and then became a bit too predictable and formulaic in the second.
The film, a first feature for director Dave McCary and writers Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney (Mooney also plays the lead role), is about James Pope, now 29, but who was abducted by a couple, April and Ted Mitchum, when he was five. Since then he has been kept in an underground bunker with his faux parents telling him he can’t go outside because the world out there is a apocalyptic wasteland and leaving the bunker means certain death.

 

To educate James, his faux parents have created a fake television show called Brigsby Bear in which the title character educates James on such subjects as math and English, as well as teaching him general morality and how he should lead his life (like only masturbating once a day).

 

Of course, one day he is rescued and the bulk of the movie James spends trying to understand this brave new world that hath such creatures in it and come to terms with his new life. He does this by ultimately creating a film that wraps up all the loose ends of the show Brigsby Bear.

 

Brigsby Bear is a feel good movie that gives feel good movies a good name.

 

It’s the kind of movie where, when something happens, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, so somehow you end up doing both at the same time.

 

It also has a cast of interesting supporting characters, with Mark Hammill and Jane Addams as his abductors; Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins as his real parents; Greg Kinnear (one of the saviors of independent film) as a police detective who never got over his acting bug; and in smaller roles, Clair Danes and Adam Samberg.

 

The idea of filmmakers needing to get in touch with their inner child provides an interesting leit motif here. I’m not sure we should take it as far as the filmmakers here do. The ultimate film within a film seems fun and even moving within the context of its getting made. But ultimately, it’s obviously not a particularly good film and shows what can happen if one doesn’t also leave childish things behind.

 

At the same time, it might serve as a good metaphor for the problematic state of movies in the US right now.

 

Marjorie Prime is a self-contained Sci-Fi story in which Primes, computer generated beings, are used to interact with people in a therapeutic manner, to help them get through difficult periods, such as when someone dies, or when someone begins to show signs of Alzheimer’s or another brain related illness. So the Primes are usually replicants of someone in the client’s past.

 

Here, Marjorie, beginning to forget things, has a program based upon her late husband. But as time goes on and Marjorie and then other people pass away, they often reappear as primes themselves.

 

There’s nothing really that wrong with Marjorie Prime and it’s a serviceable enough idea. It’s just not particularly interesting or as emotionally arresting as it may wish it were.

 

Rather than having a slow revelation about a character’s past, or even a deepening of character, all we get are people talking and talking and talking.

 

The only interesting part of the plot is the final scene in which the Primes are all alone, interacting with each other, with the question left dangling as to whether they are becoming sentient.

 

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the film concerns some of the casting. Lois Smith, who was in the play, is satisfying as Marjorie. But Geena Davis and Tim Robbins play her daughter and son-in-law. They have little to do and proceed not to do it.

 

But what is sad is that these two actors, both Academy Award winners and who gave exciting performances in exciting movies when they were younger, are now relegated to small unexciting parts in indie films, as if they are horses being put out to pasture.

 

It’s almost insulting. No, actually, it’s fully insulting.

 

Unlike countries like England and France where actors like Helen Mirren, Judy Dench, Anthony Hopkins, Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve, and Jean Louise Trintignant are still major actors playing leads, American filmdom tends to send our older thespians to nursing homes.

 

Jon Hamm plays Marjorie’s late husband. He also has little to do, but it does beg the question, why hasn’t his career been as exciting as, say, Bryan Cranston? Actually, his unexciting performance here may answer that question.

 

The screenplay is by the director Michael Alnereyda and Jordan Harrison, from Harrison’s play of the same name, which also starred Smith.

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