Whenever a new Saturday Night Live star worms his or her way our hearts, we’re inclined to wonder how well the comic prowess that serves this new favorite on the sketch series will carry over to the big screen. As one of the current SNL lineup’s strangest players, Kyle Mooney feels like a particularly vexing focus for this question. Anyone endowed with curiosity about whether Mooney will prove too weird to thrive on the big screen would be wise to check out Brigsby Bear, perhaps the greatest litmus test we could have asked for.
Like the long-haired comedian who brought it to life, the Sundance Film Festival premiere Brigsby Bear is notable foremost for its bizarre bent. Mooney stars as a 25-year-old manchild who’s spent his entire life holed up in an underground bunker with captors April ( Jane Adams) and Ted (a bonkers Mark Hamill), watching weekly video recordings of a children’s television show about the adventures of a Banana Splits-esque bear-costumed intergalactic hero named Brigsby. Even once freed from captivity and returned to his biological parents ( Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins), Mooney’s James struggles to see a world beyond Brigsby, filtering all experiences through the series that practically raised him.The expected allotment of stranger-in-a-strange-land gags ensue as James is introduced to people, activities, pop culture, and more. Mooney’s natural penchant for playing the oddball serves him well in his performance of the recovering recluse, managing more laughs than he logically ought to, considering the well-worn nature of this aspect of premise.
Even as he develops an amity with the world at large, James’ defining fixation keeps him at a distance from his family, who wish to separate their newly recovered son from the the pseudo-propaganda his kidnappers used to keep him complacent. James’ obsession with Brigsby allows for the movie’s stronger helping of humor, as Mooney allows his natural strangeness to run free by way of details allusions to Brigsby episodes and mythology. What’s more, James’ determination to bring his only friend back into his life fuels not only the film’s funniest material, but also its sweetest.
While I was unsurprised to find myself laughing at the weirdo humor that packs Brigsby Bear from end to end, I can’t say that I expected to be as heartened as I was by its story. In following James’ discovery of himself outside of the world he always knew, not to mention his family’s rediscovery of their lost boy, Brigsby Bear turns in a delightfully good-natured tale about being who you are and doing what you love. James’ rapport with not only his parents, but younger sister Aubrey ( Ryan Simpkins), teenaged aspiring animator Spence ( Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), and his case detective ( Greg Kinnear) yield very simple, but nevertheless charming “aw” moments.
Mooney may well be too much of a kook to reach the levels of mainstream success enjoyed by some of his fellow SNL veterans, but Brigsby Bear proves that he’s, thankfully, not whatsoever interested in changing his act. Really, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate feature screenplay or leading role debut for Mooney than Brigsby Bear—an earnest salute to the weirdo in all of us.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5:
Images: Sundance Institute
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.