Review: 'Brigsby Bear' Starring Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes, Greg Kinnear, & Mark Hamill

The new comedy-drama film Brigsby Bear, currently out in limited release, tells a sort of coming-of-age story in one of the strangest ways I’ve ever seen. From the minds of Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney and director Dave McCary, the film tells the story of James (Mooney), a sheltered young man obsessed with the eponymous children’s Sci-Fi adventure series. Through a series of unanticipated events (and plot twists I’m doing my best to not spoil) the Brigsby Bear Adventures series suddenly ends. James, now thrust into a world he’s not adjusted to, decides he should finish telling Brigsby’s story himself.

The film has a sort of Being There vibe as it endears you to the helplessly na├»ve protagonist as he gets to truly explore the vastness of the world for the first time. The awkward, nervous energy Mooney tends to bring to his SNL characters is used to great affect here. When allowed the time to fully develop a character like this, he’s far more impressive than he is in a five-minute sketch. That being said, the added motivation does make this a rather tragic character, leading the comedy to come from a very interesting place. You’re somewhere between laughing at him and with him, rooting for him to succeed and understanding that he probably shouldn’t. With the initiating events being as dark as they are, this creates a rather quietly complex movie that might not sit well with some audiences. One character literally gives expository dialogue with the warning “this might bring up some complicated feelings,” which is quite accurate.

This is a very difficult movie, in terms of the challenging and serious nature of its plotline. This forces the filmmakers to find incredibly unique places to insert simultaneously dry and silly humor. It’s very clear that McCary and Mooney come from a background of subversive comedy, as Brigsby Bear is unapologetically and aggressively weird. The filmmakers start the story in such a dark, strange place that has very little to do with the actual core of the movie. Ultimately, the central idea of Brigsby is exploring the discovery of a passion for film at a young age, then going out and making videos with your friends. In that sense it reminded me of JJ Abrams’ Super 8, another clearly personal story about growing up to be a movie-nerd wrapped up inside the genre weirdness the filmmaker enjoys using. Personally, I loved this aspect of both movies, and the pitch-black funny, morally ambiguous world that Brigsby set in really struck a chord for me. It’s produced by Andy Samberg and the other Lonely Island comedy troupe members, and that definitely shows. This is a coming-of-age drama by way of an SNL Digital Short.

It’s interesting to watch a new release in theaters and understand immediately that it will become a cult film. It’s an experience I have whenever Edgar Wright puts out a movie (another filmmaker who buries his deep and personal stories in genre film quirkiness) and with Brigsby Bear I had that feeling yet again. This is a subversive, dark, and unusual movie. It may not a big crowd-pleaser, but I personally loved it.

4 out of 5