SNL cast member Kyle Mooney moves into the cinema-sphere with Brigsby Bear, a mildly contemplative glimpse at the pitfalls of obsession and the power of friend-propelled art directed by former SNL writer Dave McCary.
Mooney plays James, a 20-something obsessed with a cheesy Barney-esque children's program called Brigsby Bear that sports low production values yet incredibly deep high-concept science and mathematics content. There are literally hundreds of episodes but, as James soon learns, they've been produced for him and him alone—and then the show suddenly ceases to be. Thrust into unfamiliar new environs, James sets out to complete the Brigsby Bear fiction with a self-produced film while grappling with new-to-him ideas like friends, family, sex and interpersonal politics.
Mooney, who also co-wrote the script, is outstanding as the innocent and confused James; a man-child who flat-out ignores the absurdly tragic and painful events of his life up until now. It's charming to see him learn on the job, so to speak, about making movies, existing in the world and navigating the ups and downs of his newfound relationships. Greg Kinnear proves endearing as well as a one-time high-school actor turned detective who has a special interest in James and his ideas for the fate of Brigsby Bear. Ditto for James' parents (played by Veep's Matt Walsh and former SNL star Michaela Watkins) who deftly ride the line between grieving adults and vulnerable human beings.
It's a winning combination that ultimately falls a little flat by never digging deep enough into the questions it poses. No spoilers, but James is either unable or unwilling to face the reality of his own situation—which edges on irresponsible, given the ideas of post-traumatic stress and repression that take center stage. Having said that, Brigsby Bear is funny enough and heartfelt enough as to be enjoyable—it just doesn't quite hit the mark it was aiming for.
+ A great first film from Mooney
- Raises big questions, fails to answer them well
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Directed by McCary
With Mooney, Kinnear, Watkins and Walsh